Advertisement on Instagram is becoming increasingly dodgy. Companies are paying people who are already popular to promote their products. However, the issue is that they fail to tell users that what they are looking at is advertising, thus circumventing trading standards. They exploit the appeal of ordinary folks similar to you and me, propelled to minor notoriety through the virtue of aesthetic merit, simply to sell their products.
Social media is often perceived as the ultimate meritocracy. Its users have a level playing field of a posting template, confined within the same limits and structural frameworks. Yet this becomes complicated when a degree of celebrity is attained and fashion companies/sportswear firms get involved.
How is it that a certain category of the Instagrammer can appear to be on a constant holiday, constantly bathed in glowing rays? Shot after shot of sun-bleached cliffs, warm white sands, hot dog legs and fantastically vibrant tropical shores. The social media platform takes the idea of the ‘working holiday’ to the limit when brands sponsor perpetual jet-setting.
Undoubtedly, this new form of advertising is deadly effective. In a world where we are bombarded every day with images on all areas of the internet, our sense of trust in these messages has become significantly eroded. However, when we are getting these recommendations from someone we ostensibly ‘know’ – with access to their daily musings and follies – we are much more inclined to authenticate their veracity. These figures are aspirational totems, revered and yet grounded in material reality. These now demi-god personalities were plucked from obscurity, representing a diabolical wish-fulfilment that plays on our deluded sense of uniqueness and craving for societal validation of that inherent ‘special’ quality.
Yet, unlike the celebrities of yore, we have a direct line to these personalities. They can interact with us, comment and like our content. It is this sense of closeness that magnifies their influence.
Juxtaposed with this sense of believability, is the deception at the practice’s core. The unsuspecting scroller has no idea that the familiar friendly face’s gentle suggestion has been repurposed by the capitalist machine. We are quick to decry this kind of duplicity as unethical in and of itself, but is it really only natural that business will exploit the loopholes in emerging technology faster than regulations can catch up?
The wider issue here, taking the substantial cognitive leap into the hypothetical state where through it is through their creative merit that these accounts ascend to popularity, is the erosion of genuinely good original content by corporate interference. A broader problem of social media as a whole is the buying up of pages once they reach a certain threshold of subscribers/followers/likes (delete as appropriate). One has to ask the question however, that if an artist is so weak-willed as to surrender their creative endeavour for the sake of cash, then are they even worth protecting from the vultures of capitalism, circling above in wait for them to reach that crucial apex and fall in with their business model?
Many social media companies are responding to this phenomenon by formalising their capitalistic aspects. The rise of Twitter’s promoted tweets and Facebook’s sponsored content all seek to recognise what had been going on already prior to these official manifestations. YouTube is more monetised than ever with its ads and subscription service ‘Red’, and Snapchat is set to go public at the end of this year, with an extortionate share value – a previously markedly un-corporate app.
As the lines constantly blur and refocus in a seemingly endless cycle of indiscretion and discipline, for the meantime the onus is on us to increase our vigilance and scepticism accordingly.