Opinion: How consumerism is ruining social media

Consumerism is sucking the joy out of social media, every time you open TikTok a plethora of marketing content is forced down your throat taking away from all the creativity and fun that these platforms usually provide.

I usually enjoy the occasional cleverly made advert made by talented marketing teams but the creation of TikTok shop has allowed anyone and everyone to promote every product under the sun in hopes of making a minuscule commission. If it is not someone trying to sell you the latest Stanley Cup dupe it is someone telling you they wrote the ‘song of the summer’ or an influencer is launching their clothing brand. 

Unlike Instagram, the TikTok shop means anyone who purchases something from them can promote it and make a small commission depending on how many people go through their link to the product. Many people have argued that surely, it is better to know where the commission is going instead of giving it to a big corporation, but at the end of the day TikTok is coming out on top.

ERDWEN Billboards at Times Square, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA – Credit: Alamy

This generation’s insatiable itch for consumption is unstoppable and the route social media is going reflects that. The purpose of these apps is evolving, shifting away from being a creative outlet towards a platform that preys on insecurity and is always there to conveniently promote products to ‘fix’ you.  Social media expert Iliyana Farfarova says “Social media platforms have a responsibility for their users, but they also operate as businesses. It’s not a secret that ever since Instagram introduced paid ads on its platform, the interface and experience has tremendously changed. While the algorithms are constantly evolving to serve you content that is best suited to your interests and needs, and a lot of work has been done on this and continues to be done, what is important is to have a balance which some platforms have increasingly struggled with.” 

Product promotion used to rely on celebrities and influencers endorsing things that they had a part in or that they were fans of, genuine or not, you still required a certain level of fame to be able to do it. Nowadays even Barbra down the road can try and sell you the hottest new shapewear, it is inescapable. Aside from the obvious rampant effects of consumerism on the environment, when combined with these high-tech algorithmic social media platforms it can become dangerous. People begin equating self-worth to the products that they own and feel as though they are less or not their true selves without them. Social media uses aesthetics and imagery to sell things to you like buying these items will help you become the next ‘clean girl’ or give off ‘old money vibes’ leaving people thinking owning these thinks will allow them to become this person that social media has made to look so appealing to them.

The relentless pursuit of consumer goods can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress, as people feel the pressure to keep up with trends and acquire more and more possessions. The constant endorsement right at our fingertips means we are always seeing others highlighting their latest purchases which can push people to believe they are missing out, leading to impulsive and unnecessary spending. Iliyana added “4.76 billion users are on social media, almost 60 per cent of the population, and on average we spend two and a half hours on social media every day. This means that we are exposed to more content from more brands and creators than ever before. I think that the relationship between consumerism and social media exists in that context – where we interact with so many more people in a much more condensed space.”

iPhone 7 showing its screen with TikTok and other application icons. Credit: Alamy

TikTok being overrun with advertisements is that of dystopian horrors and is leading people to believe that these superficial values and unrealistic ideals are genuinely attainable and it slowly brainwashing an entire generation. Those who cannot afford such an extent of materialism cannot see that it’s truly such a small number of people who live these lavish lifestyles and find themselves tying their self-worth to the products they own or their ability to purchase them.

Platforms with algorithms such as TikTok means you have a constant barrage of the item on your Wishlist meaning you are being pushed to make purchases you would not usually make, as under normal circumstances these things would remain wishful thinking. Iliyana highlighted is “An important ethical consideration has to be the experience of the youngest users – those between 13 and 16 to 18 and the creation of consumer identities in teenagers. I think that it’s important to talk about consumer behaviour related to age as there is research that suggests that younger people are more prone to peer pressure, meaning that social media in relation to social identity and social comparison, is having a significant role to play. But different generations are also a key consideration here – we know that Gen Z think about sustainability more than any other generation before them and their buying decisions are influenced by those values.”

Your consumerist behaviour is reinforced as everyone around you is displaying haul after haul of fast fashion and your recommended videos slowly lose the humor and fun becoming pure pressure to consume. This also means your choices are limited as these corporations are never going to showcase the most ethical and environmentally friendly options because that simply will not benefit them. 

In an attempt to combat this, we should attempt to promote responsible consumption or place limits on advertising on social media so that it can go back to being the creative space it was originally made to be. This excess promotion only puts me off social media as being on it feels like a chore trying to ignore the forceful messages of creators turned salespeople. If something does not change using social media will start to feel like you are fed content from a late-night shopping channel. This entire predicament forms a self-perpetuating cycle, where individuals promote these products to secure commissions, which, in turn, enables them to indulge in more consumption, further reinforcing the cycle of consumerism on social media. 


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