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Social media wants your money

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How social media platforms have evolved from connecting people to platforms that are all about targeted advertising and impulse purchases

Nick Kossovan, Troy Media

The American way (read: the main goal of capitalism), which greatly influences the world Canadian way, For us it has always been about separating you from your money. I bet that just moments after the Internet opened to the public on April 30, 1993, many people asked themselves, “How can I use this new medium to sell things?”

In 1997, SixDegrees launched the first online social networking site, marking the birth of social media. Almost immediately, in addition to advertisers, wholesalers, charlatans, snake oil dealers and outright fraudsters swooped in out of nowhere.

Have you seen the online ad for the Bluetooth enabled Shiatsu foot massager? How about the organic mushroom supplement powder? How about the micromagnetic slimming earrings? Social media originally thrived on feel-good content. However, social media companies have bills to pay and profits to make; So, understandably, monetization became their focus, resulting in social media being flooded with ads for cheap, bright and shiny items.

These days, you can't scroll through your feed without being inundated with ads promoting supplements, subscription services, or self-proclaimed “experts” teaching a craft they've never mastered.

Remember the days when you were surfing the Internet and had to visit the seller's website? With the emergence of social commerce – the combination of e-commerce and social media – the need to venture out disappeared. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and TikTok now have native social commerce features built into their respective platforms. Not surprisingly, this feature, when leveraged through Svengali-like marketing strategies that introduce you to products you didn't know existed, leads to impulse purchases.

Who knew there was a 3-in-1 avocado slicer for hassle-free avocado preparation for just $3.47? According to the display, there are fewer than 400 left. For this price it is a must have. Never mind that I can't remember the last time I ate an avocado.

As kitchen drawers, closets, garages, basements, and storage closets will prove, inciting fear of missing out (FOMO) by offering a cheap product and claiming inventory is dwindling is a proven marketing strategy. One can only guess what percentage of our online and offline consumer behavior is impulse buying.

Thanks to social commerce, a “marketer” can gift you an inexpensive hoodie while you scroll through TikTok. To take advantage of this offer without unduly interrupting your viewing of shuffle dance videos, simply click “Buy.”

I find it exhausting to scroll through my social media feeds because I feel like everyone is trying to sell me something. Social media is overflowing with “Buy me!” and has become an algorithmic traffic driver for targeted advertising. Then there is the fake factor.

• Despite all the claims, there is no such thing as “free”. Everything has a price: time (attention) and/or money.

• There is no real “I want to help you” advice, just sales pitches and sales funnels.

• The freebies are superficial. A “free” life improvement e-book offered in exchange for your email address is just recycled advice you’ve already heard or read. As promised, there is nothing revolutionary or exclusive about the advice.

It irritates me how many companies behave on social media. I naively assumed that social media would evolve into a medium for people to connect, as if the whole world was sharing one big kiss, as opposed to the business-to-consumer digital marketplace it has become.

Weight loss programs, get-rich-quick schemes, influencers selling products that don't produce results, Facebook friends selling beauty products, salons promoting Botox and fillers, and ads that intentionally make star text impossible to read. Companies that expand the definition of “free,” “guaranteed,” and “unlimited.” Products that wear out quickly. Subscription models for everything. In some ways, social media and the internet thrive on disguised scams.

My angelic side believes that those behind turning social media into a Turkish bazaar simply want what we all want: money to buy time and freedom. Since our economic system works like a pyramid scheme, everyone tries to some extent to make money and manage their consumer behavior by taking advantage of others. In other words, who am I to judge those who sin differently than I do?

Considering how social media companies generate revenue, it's hard to condemn their monetization efforts.

Your role on social media is not that of the user. They are the product offered to advertisers and those who dream of making money on social media. Platforms collect your attention (also called views) and then sell it to advertisers. It should come as no surprise that your attention span and actions on social media are becoming commercialized.

There is a saying in economics and finance that is particularly relevant here: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” From an economic perspective, nothing is ever free. When something appears to be free, like a social media account, you're generally paying for it in a tricky way.

Always consider where your money is going. Think more carefully about your life goals. Don’t let social media platforms dictate your dreams. Unfortunately, social media has replaced the American dream of working hard and making money with the dream of not working hard and making money, resulting in our social media feeds being flooded with shameless attempts to alienate us to separate our money.

Nick Kossovan, a self-proclaimed expert on human psychology, writes from Toronto about what concerns him.

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