”If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.”
Life without digital presence almost seems inconceivable today. Indeed, social media is no longer just used for keeping in touch with loved ones. It is a marketing platform, a career builder, a place to debate and participate in movements, or to just engage with the world in a more intimate way.
In the tiny timeframe of two decades, the internet and technology around it have developed in unprecedented, almost unimaginable ways. While this growth has brought about a great amount of joy, potential, and wealth, the costs of the process are becoming increasingly evident.
The rise in fake news and the issue of anxiety and depression arising from social media among the youth are just some examples. Another very pertinent issue is that of people making all aspects of their personal lives public – a process that may not always be voluntary.
‘The New Oil’
Since the mid-2000s, many have been famously quoted as saying ‘data is the new oil.’
While some scholars were trying to suggest that like oil, data needs to be processed to be valuable, the term stuck in a more general sense – information about who we are and what we do is the world’s most precious commodity in the Age of the Internet.
Every time we install an app, or log onto a website, or sign up for something using our emails, we allow platforms to access a part of our personal history, our experiences, expectations, and desires. What for? Digital marketing, of course.
Social media platforms have always been free. There might be some premium features you may shell out for, but by and large, you can have a jolly good time without spending a penny. But are you, really, not spending money? Think about it.
You are not paying the money, but platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have spawned billionaire CEOs. That’s because you are not actually a consumer of social media, in the strict sense of the word. In traditional markets, a consumer is somebody who pays for a good or service.
On social media, you are the product. It is your time, attention, and desires being sold, to digital marketing schemes that pour millions into advertising on social media.
All social media platforms do this. Their business model is to scan your experiences, interactions on their respective platforms (and sometimes even outside of it), and tailor advertisements to you.
This saves a company the effort of creating a marketing scheme – there is surely somebody out there craving a pair of white boots, and social media helps channel the company to consumers who are much more likely to buy the product.
Is it, perhaps, unethical? An increasing number of people think so. Disconnecting from social media or the internet is an increasingly unlikely option. The hope lies in better regulation of companies on national and international levels.
Regretting the Limelight
Another parallel issue of privacy that runs on the internet is that of personal exposure. ‘Influencer‘ culture has emerged from platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram.
The whole brand of these influencers is often aesthetic-intense but vague topics of food, travel, or luxury, or the creation of sketches or daily vlogs have put out every tiny detail of their lives on the internet.
The rise of this culture is in sync with a growing openness on digital platforms, where people feel that they can, and should, put out anything and everything. While it is always up to personal choice for people, social media has a tendency to only highlight the positives, since that is what is good for business.
For every influencer that rakes in big bucks advertising fit tea, there have been dozens who have left platforms.
There have also been countless stories of people losing friends and even jobs over social media posts. For many, ‘edgy’ tweets have come back in a more politically sensitive world to haunt them.
Social media often makes us think that we need to always be on – but that’s because it needs to always be on. That’s how its digital marketing scheme works. But can we cut away completely? Perhaps not.
No matter what its pitfalls, social media has brought a lot of good into the world, from helping share incredible stories and helping strangers across the world, to just providing some fun entertainment. It then becomes a matter of individual responsibility to change the way we interact with social media platforms.
Making Private, Private
Here are a few pointers that you can apply in your daily life to help you navigate your personal life through online platforms –
Sure, you might rather scroll through your feed, but it might be a good idea to check your settings every now and then. Many platforms have defaults that make your account as open and visible as possible. Some simple toggles can help you get better control and shield your content from outsiders.
Separate and Show
Many places, such as jobs, today see social media access as a necessary part of proceedings. If you do not want to regulate what you post, it might be a good idea to keep a separate ‘private’ account and a more public and upstanding one for professional use.
This can also be an excellent way of keeping people such as colleagues and acquaintances from getting intimate details of your life.
Archive Old Content
If you have old content you’d rather the world not see, archive it. This helps in protecting your privacy without deleting your old memories. It is thus a great clean-up solution to salvage your older accounts and saves you the trouble of starting back from scratch.
Consider An Off-Limits List
Regulating the content you post can go a long way in keeping your private life off social media. Think about things that you would rather keep private – job updates, romance, or even vacations, and don’t post about them. You might feel a little FOMO, but it’ll be much better for you in the long run.
It might be tempting to jump in on a controversial post, but arguing with strangers on the internet doesn’t lead anywhere good. A lot of times, trolls take the opportunity to take potshots and flood your inbox or comments (if your account is public) with hateful things.
If you believe in a movement or content, take action outside the comment section, and your mental health will surely be thankful.
What do you think about the link between social media and digital marketing? What about influencer culture? Can we really regain our privacy in these digital times? Let us know in the comments below!