A new trend on TikTok seems like a great step toward decommercializing social media, but in perhaps the least surprising move ever, it's been co-opted by people trying to sell you things.
TikTok and other social media platforms are full of influencers who get paid by companies to feature its products in their videos. They're just as pervasive as ads everywhere else on the internet, except there's no automatic ad blocker to prevent them or a way to distinguish paid or sponsored product endorsements from genuine recommendations. Many times, social media users don't even realize they're being sold products while they scroll through TikTok or Instagram.
Users who don't appreciate that kind of content started a trend called deinfluencing. It's backlash against the rampant consumerism, influencer culture, and overconsumption shilled in every corner of social media that can exasperate environmental, economic, and sustainability issues.
@babbity.kate RIP deinfluencing, we hardly knew ye #deinfluencing #influencerculture ♬ original sound - Babbity Kate
At first, the #deinfluencing hashtag was often coupled with hashtags like #anticonsumerism and #wasteofmoney, but it didn't take long for TikTok's influencers to turn what was an anti-influencer sentiment into a opportunity to sell more products.
First, videos started popping up with reviews of bad products and advice of what products to stay away from. While that can be helpful information, it's far from the original anti-capitalist message of the deinfluencing hashtag that urged people to participate less in consumer culture.
@nicole_perfumes either do it right or don't do it at all #deinfluencing #trending #deinfluencer ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey
From there, it was not a big leap to "don't buy that — buy this product that I'm being paid to show you instead" videos. Now, when you search the deinfluencing hashtag, which has 323 million views since the trend started in January, the majority of what you see are beauty influencers selling you products, just like usual. And commenters on the videos, even the videos that only offer opinions on what not to buy, are quick to promote consumerism by giving their own product recommendations as well.
All social media needs to be consumed through a veil of cynicism, or at least a healthy dose of skepticism that questions why someone in a video is recommending a specific product. Deinfluencers are no exception: the originally well-intentioned trend has been morphed into a feel-good marketing scheme to shill more products.
For more stories about consumer culture and ways to save money, sign up for our free newsletters.