[COMMENT] The advent and ensuing global mass adoption of social media platforms over the past 15 years has evidently digitised the way we communicate, distribute opinions and consume information.
This enormous shift in human behaviour over such a short period of time, coupled with the exponential technological advancement of these platforms, has left somewhat of a rift that accurate, bipartisan regulation has yet to effectively fill.
Now, moving into the latter half of the second decade of this digital migration, we are slowly beginning to understand the vast, long-term impact this constant connectivity and flow of information is having on people in the real world. As more time goes by and more accurate data becomes available, we are slowly able to pull back the curtain and witness first-hand how the content we consume online has an undeniably direct impact on how we behave and adopt habitual behaviours offline.
CNN’s 2018 investigation into Juul (the largest vape manufacturer in the United States) uncovered how the company paid Instagram influencers to promote its products, with an evident skew towards accounts followed by teenagers. This investigation has now led to a congressional hearing, which will examine ‘Juul’s role in the Youth Nicotine Epidemic’ – with a focus on the product’s high nicotine content and early marketing campaigns.
Parallel to this hearing, Facebook has announced a new policy that will restrict the sale of and limit content related to alcohol and tobacco products on its platforms – which includes Instagram.
While at face value this policy may seem to be addressing the evidence at hand, when one takes a closer look, it does very little to actually combat the influence its platforms have on the behaviour of teenagers and the consumption of tobacco and alcohol.
All the new policy does is prevent the direct sale of these products within the confines of Facebook and Instagram, while still allowing paid influencers to promote nicotine-containing products without any form of age restriction on the content.
As social media companies make the majority of their profits through advertising revenue, they are constantly needing to walk the line between profitability and regulation.
But as we begin to further understand the negative impact this advertising may have on users, companies like Facebook are going to have to become more accountable for their policies.
While the conversation around personal data privacy is ongoing, it may be this personal data that becomes the downfall of the companies that have long profited from it.
Alex Krause is a senior strategist at HelloFCB+. He develops brand, campaign, data management, CRM and content strategies for a number of local and global brands, including Pernod Ricard (The Glenlivet, Ballantine’s, Olmeca Tequila, Altos Tequila, GH Mumm, Chivas Regal, Jameson Irish Whiskey and The Inner Circle), Capfin, Beko (Defy) Africa, The Airey Group, NetFlorist and Wesgro.
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