Like, Comment, Sell
Like, capture, and share the world’s moments.
Or so was the corporate slogan of Instagram. Initially, the social media platform was meant to be a way for people who would’ve otherwise been unable to interact with one another to connect through photography. Thanks to the hashtagging function, people would be able to stumble across one another’s posts and network with others through shared interests. The app would later make additions such as suggesting mutuals to follow, as well as a story function that mimicked Snapchat.
However, in the past year or so the app has become less of a place of entertainment and more of an e-commerce space. At first, brands could attach tags to posts that when tapped would lead a potential consumer to the product advertised. Scroll and do some virtual window shopping? How convenient!
But then, marketing became less subtle and more aggressive.
Advertisements became prominent on feeds, before also appearing on stories. There have been a boom of gurus promoting themselves as coaches and tutors in everything from web design to cactus farming. The oversaturation of this mentoring space leaves room for skepticism on how lucrative the skill is (be it monetary or of personal fulfillment) and of how knowledgeable many of these gurus actually are.
Instagram is not the only social media space consumed by the advertising world. In fact, the entire internet has been swallowed whole into a world of marketing. What often happens is that a business will seek to build a digital presence. They’ll create accounts on numerous websites to promote themselves. Inevitably, social media apps reorient themselves to become more e-commerce friendly, even at the expense of deviating a bit from their original purpose.
Even if the average user is not concerned about the ad spam of social media, what is jarring is that these ads are eerily tailored to their preferences; specifically, through viewing history. Big Data has evolved into a technological field where patterns of digital information are collected and analyzed to spot trends. Consequently this has negative implications for one’s privacy. Big Brother is watching you.
The art of the sale is often a cold practice. It’s frigidity saps away from the warmth of virtual connection. Connecting over mutual interests turns into orienting your values to a niche of consumers so that they invest in your products and services. Lines of life and livelihood become blurred, and you start questioning who’s being sincere and who’s just trying to secure their bag.
This is exemplified further through the existence of social media influencers. For example, a makeup artist (MUA) may start a blog or social media page out of personal enjoyment. They gain a following. The following grows exponentially, and the MUA is now recognized within the community. Naturally brands gravitate towards the MUA and offer sponsorships. This can lead to a trap where the MUA features poor quality products or products they dislike because they’re getting sponsored for it.
Take charcoal peeling masks, for instance. Videos and images of MUAs applying the goo to their face, waiting awhile, and peeling it off in pain circulated throughout feeds. But unless someone consulted a dermatologists’ advice, they would be unaware that the white flecks that stuck to the mask are not their blackheads. No, it was their epidermis and even facial hair being stripped away, exposing the skin to the elements and making it more sensitive to breakouts. This would then cause a cycle of breaking out, using the peeling mask, breaking out again because their skin has less of a protective layer, using the mask again.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it may also be worth thousands for a marketer. There are fewer things more enticing for a consumer than the enhanced image paired with persuasive rhetoric to convey high value and desirability in a sea of competition. For better or for worse, your timeline has become a digital ocean for these voracious virtual piranhas.
Laura Illioaei is a second year English & Communication Studies double major who keeps ad-block on. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.