Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

Amidst rapidly advancing technology, it seems we’re on a completely different internet than in the late 2010s. According to some research, we just might be. Almost all social media platforms are flooded with advertisements and ploys to keep us scrolling. The internet has been transformed by artificial intelligence. Social media has essentially become an online farmer’s market. Have we become the product?

In today’s age, an algorithm on social media refers to a collection of signals that ranks the content users are most likely to interact with. Two users with similar interests will have differing feeds, even if they follow all the same accounts. Our own ranking signals directly influence what appears on our screens. Ranking signals are how we engage with content, such as liking it, commenting or even sharing.

Ever notice how when you click an ad, even on accident, suddenly all of your platforms display similar advertisements? Sometimes, I even find myself thinking about something, only to see it on my feed in convenient advertising the very next day.

What we see has become particularly tailored for us. Most companies that rule the internet have access to our engagement data. While it could be considered convenient, I personally don’t think it’s done with our best interests in mind.

Every social media platform utilizes its own unique algorithm. Yet, they’re all geared towards the same thing: keeping you scrolling. If you’re enjoying your time online and the personalized content being spewed at you, you’re more likely to stay logged on for longer. The longer you’re on, the more you’re unknowingly shopping.

These websites need to make money and they do it through hidden advertisements. I’ve almost fallen for those Amazon storefronts, too. As previously stated, data is shared between sites, so the ads can follow you. They monitor how long you’re looking at an ad, if you click on it, share it, etc. in order to gain better knowledge as to what they can sell you next.

Tim Wu, author of “The Attention Merchants,” insists that there are ploys to harvest our attention in order to make the most profit. The content has become so alluring, even our attention is being used as a resource for their monetary gain. While this is being taken advantage of in advertisements in every form, it’s become an obvious priority in recent years on social media.

In the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” it’s suggested that our attention is the product. Our engagement data is sold to the highest bidding advertiser, so they know how to take our money more efficiently without us realizing it. The more distracted we become on social media, the more susceptible we are to giving our precious attention away.

This brings me to the Dead Internet Theory. Reddit user IlluminatiPirate proposes the vast majority of the Internet is made up of bots pretending to be human. There are two potential reasons for this within the theory: marketing and manipulating public opinion. It’s suggested that bots are created to influence products to become more appealing to consumers.

Regarding the latter reason, the theory suggests that the government could have more to do with this than companies. Misinformation seems to plague the internet these days. Is it possible that bots are designed to heavily promote false narratives for some political agenda? It may sound extreme but is it really that outlandish considering how advanced AI has become?

While this drastic change in the internet is fascinating, I also find it terrifying. It makes me question how in charge we really are of our focus and what the usurpation of it can lead to. If you are considering examining your social media usage and protecting yourself, there are ways to do it. It’s become clear to me that our attention is a resource, and a precious one at that. I wonder, what will the next few years bring if the Internet continues down this path?

Abigale Darnell (she/her) is a student in Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University with a minor in Creative Writing. She has an interest in holistic wellness, female empowerment, fashion and pop culture.