Law in the Internet Society
No title?

-- MariaLedesma - 22 Oct 2021

“I am in control of my experience on Instagram,” or so the company would like its users to believe. In an effort to foster more positive use of the social media app after evidence from internal research revealed that use of the app negatively impacted some account holders’ mental health, Instagram partnered with nonprofit organizations to promote what it calls “emotional resilience.” As part of this effort, videos containing daily affirmations, such as the fallacy cited above, were recommended to its users, particularly teens. In addition to these daily affirmations, Instagram also tested more interface-specific changes, such as the option to hide the number of likes on all of the posts on one’s feed, to “depressurize” people’s experience on the app. However, while changes like the latter ostensibly “give people control over their experiences” on the app, they do not fundamentally alter its function, thus begging the question: If users truly want control over their virtual experience, why are they on Instagram?

Like other social media apps, Instagram connects people all over the world through its photo and video sharing platform. Internal data from its parent company, Facebook, Inc., indicates that as of June 2018, over a billion Instagram accounts worldwide were active monthly, while as of September 2017, over 500 million accounts worldwide were active daily. But the app does more than connect people to other people (or more specifically, to others’ personal accounts); in recent years, business accounts have developed a sizable presence on the platform. For instance, as of October 2019, 90 percent of account holders followed at least one business on the app, while today, users visit more than 200 million business accounts on the platform globally daily. The increase of businesses on the app has not only contributed to an expansion of the services provided by Instagram – for example, in addition to posting and liking photographs and videos, users can now shop directly through the app by clicking on tags and links in businesses’ posts – but it has coincided with the transformation of the platform into a marketing-driven profit-making tool. That is, in recent years, targeted advertising has become a prominent feature of the app. Businesses can now use the platform to create and share advertisements based on their target audience’s location and demographics, including age, gender, and interests. The platform even informs businesses that they can “target [their] ad[s] to people based on what they do off of Instagram.” According to Instagram, this practice ensures that the “people receiving the ads are ones more likely to be interested in [the] product, app or service.”

The impact of this marketing strategy on the platform cannot be overstated. Instagram has generated substantial revenue from target advertising. In the United States alone, while in 2018, Instagram accumulated $6.18 billion in advertising revenue and $9.45 billion in 2019, the company is expected to generate over $18 billion in revenue this year. Hidden in these figures, however, is the major role that teenage users of the app play in the company’s digital marketing scheme. As the New York Times recently reported, starting in 2018, after metrics indicated that the company was losing its hold on teenagers to other social media platforms, Instagram designated almost the entirety of its global annual marketing budget – $67.2 million in 2018 – to targeting teenagers through digital advertisements. Although the company waved this marketing strategy off as unsurprising given that “teens are one of [their] most important communities because they spot and set trends,” marketers acknowledged that focusing this narrowly on an age group is highly unusual. Today, with a budget of almost $400 million allocated to global marketing, the company’s singular focus on its teen users not only reflects the importance of this base to Instagram’s continued growth but the success of advertisements in impacting users’ experience on the app.

With this context in mind, it is easy to see how being on Instagram today leaves little room for individuals to truly control their virtual experience. While it is still the case that users have control over what they share and to some extent who they choose to follow on the app, in the end, their activity both on and off the platform is insidiously tracked by Instagram and marketers to better target the advertising content they will ultimately consume on their feeds. Interestingly, despite all the interface changes announced by the company to “give people control over their experience,” there is no feature to turn off advertising generally nor targeted advertising in particular on the app. Users can, however, limit Facebook’s background data collection from other apps and websites, which is largely responsible for the advertisement content users see on their feeds based on their activities off of Instagram. However, this does not mean that they are ultimately free of all advertising on their accounts since their activity on Instagram itself generates advertisements. As such, it is a fallacy to think that one is ever in control of their experience on the app.

In sum, as long as digital targeted advertising forms an integral part of Instagram’s business model, users will not have control over their experiences on the platform.

Word count: 857

This draft has a bunch of information about Instagram, apparently gotten from sources it doesn't cite. All of which doesn't allow for anything more analytic by way of conclusion than the last one sentence of the draft.

The best way to improve the essay is to make it 99% your ideas and 1% summary of material from sources, instead of the other way around. Link your sources: you are writing for the web, so your reader should be able to see what you're relying on with a click.


Webs Webs

r2 - 04 Dec 2021 - 16:53:00 - EbenMoglen
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