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IPFS News Link • Surveillance

Instagram's New Shopping Feature Exploits Users, Promotes Surveillance Capitalism

• Childrens Health Defense

By Nazanin Andalibi

Recently, when I opened Instagram, I noticed that the usual spot for checking notifications is now a "Shop" tab. The Instagram blog post announcing the redesign said that the change will support small businesses and connect people with their favorite brands and creators.

This made me pause. As a researcher who studies social media, people and society, I'm concerned about the effects of surveillance capitalism. This includes social media companies profiting from collecting user data, making algorithmic inferences about people's preferences and using this information to target people with advertising.

Features like Instagram's "Shop" tab facilitate surveillance capitalism, so it's important to look at their consequences. Many people use Instagram to share their lives with other people, but the redesign is shifting the nature of the social media platform toward online commerce. This shift opens people to highly targeted advertising and makes them vulnerable to advertising that exploits their emotional experiences.

Shift to shopping

Research, including my own, shows that people use Instagram to record their big and mundane moments, find community, exchange social support, express identities and keep in touch with friends.

In 2017, colleagues and I showed how ad hoc communities form around the tag #depression on the platform, and how much of the discourse is to make sense of the experience of depression, record it, share it with others and exchange support with other people dealing with depression. I argued that it is important for the platform to recognize the value users find in these communities and support them, rather than ban or nudge them to go elsewhere, when they come to the platform to express themselves and build solidarity.


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