Instagram commercializes youth life
Instagram: the influence, the brands, the dangers
November 20, 2018
Do you remember the old Instagram? Ordinary. Simple. Filter-frenzied. Hashtags galore. Nothing particularly artful or calculated. No Instagram stories, direct messages, explore pages, like-consciousness, follower to following ratio anxiety. The mundanity of the early photos is depicted by an early Serena Williams post from 2011.
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Smartphones did not have high-quality cameras to display the kind of content people now see on Instagram. Now, celebrities carefully depict their lives via Instagram. Overflowing with paid advertisement posts, professional photography and a vivacious media presence, many celebrities and Instagram influencers identify with the app. The same can be said for teenagers and students at St. Paul Academy and Summit School.
Under the influence
An Instagram influencer is the name given to people who are paid to promote brands and companies on Instagram. The deals are created via direct message and require no palpable contract. Often the company sends the teenager an item for them to pose in and post on their public Instagram account, giving them a credit of course. Directions on how to post, what to write in the caption, which hashtags to write and if they need to tag anyone are often included. Businesses are paying an average of $5-$20 to post for their start-up brands, according to a study by The Atlantic.
And the effect of these influencers extends beyond money: the term “influencer marketing” increased 325% in Google searches in 2017, ⅔ of company departments are hoping to augment their social media marketing presence, and the largest platform for marketing is Instagram.
Among the emerging market for companies to promote their brands on Instagram, there is a multitude of hazards. With little real regulation and limited attention from parents, companies take advantage of teens with scams. This past summer, SoAestheticShop, a company that sells youth inspired clothing and accessories, allegedly refused to pay their influencers.
Including the potential danger that comes from becoming an Instagram influencer and being a consumer of the influence, the conception of branding teenagers tips on a tightrope.
Generation Z spends $44 billion per year, and for many companies, the focus is to not only cater to a younger generation, but the goal is also to additionally create an interconnected customer and consumer base that functions independently.
The exponential increase and intensity of promotion via Instagram have increased over the past decade. Ads are so common that news outlets have created guides on how to get rid of them. Raised with commodity culture, today’s teenagers are exposed to fragile self-images that give brands an opportunity to exploit. Kids on Instagram subversively agree to accept the conditions of an instrumental mechanism of consumerism that pops up every time the Instagram app is launched.
Younger generations are at the highest risk of being negatively affected by social media. They now become the ones branding, whether opting to follow said influencers or becoming an influencer themselves. This participation subversively puts children into a world that only revolves around the buying and selling of products, and essentially, teens.
The tactic isn’t new. When Teen Vogue started in 200, they directly catered towards a younger audience which prepared that generation for graduating to the adult magazines. The magazines construct a largely unattainable world for young generations, especially girls.
Students and Instagram
When Instagram launched in 2010, most students were under the age of 10. Yet 8 years from their inauguration, 89.6%* of students indicate that they do have an active Instagram account. Most students use the app for its original purpose: to post their own content. However, many students do admit to following Instagram influencers. Senior Jennie Verhey uses Instagram frequently as a place to document her trips and other events. She affirms that who she follows does construct a pseudo-branded identity:
“I follow people like Emma Chamberlain and her friends. They definitely promote brands or are brand ambassadors. [Emma Chamberlain] promotes Urban Outfitters and other basic stores that teenage girls use. I see her clothes, and whether I know it or not, I’m influenced by it.”
Her personality, she thinks, is definitely different on Instagram than in real life: “I think maybe [my profile] comes off as more confident and humorous than I would seem just walking down the hallway.”
Ellie Dawson-Moore, a 9th grader, carefully crafts her captions, photos, and stories on Instagram.
“I try to make [my posts] funny, so I think about the caption. But I don’t really check it once it has been posted, because I don’t really care about the likes. I leave it alone for a bit.”
She understands, however, the social harms of oversharing information and teenage advertisements on Instagram.
“I think it’s obnoxious, and I skip past them when I see them on my feed. For every generation, there’s been a thing that the other generations didn’t have and thinks is unnecessary. I don’t think the older generations should judge, because the generations before them did. People tend to put the best parts of themselves and their lives on their feed. That can lead people down a sad path if their trying to compare themselves to filtered bodies, faces, and lies when it isn’t even real, to begin with.”
The power to choose gives junior Peter Michel a nice balance with his Instagram feed. Michel, who admits to rarely posting on the app, believes it is a convenient tool for him to promote events he is a part of.
“If I’m following someone that I know over shares on their Instagram, it’s because I want to. It’s because I’m interested in what they have to say in a moments notice,” he said.
Verhey, an Instagram native since her middle school days, recognizes the app’s evolving presence in her life and in her generation:
“When we were thirteen to fifteen, I think we tried super hard and we posted only the good times, and we edited everything. It was a lot more filtered. But now it’s trendy to be more real. My Instagram may not be completely balanced with negatives and positives, but the positives are there, and then I’ll tell my friends the negatives. I still have that balance. An onlooker might not see the balance, but it’s not like they need to. I don’t think both sides need to be shared on Instagram, because if you have other outlets in your life to get that negative stuff out, then it’s fine.”
And along the line, perhaps other outlets will outcast Instagram. Or maybe ads will arrive via drone. The consumerism, however, persists.
*= In a poll sent out to students, of which 20% responded, 89.6% indicated that they have an active Instagram account