As a child I remember taking Christmas list writing incredibly seriously. Argos catalogues would be poured over and circled, and my parents would herd my sister and I through Toys “R” Us to point out exactly what we wanted from Father Christmas. Unsurprisingly, we were choosing what we had seen in TV ads or in the kids comics and magazines we read. Children are incredibly susceptible to advertising, and that’s why there are such strict regulations in many countries about what ads are allowed to target children.

As adults do we think that we’re any more resistant to advertising? Of course we don’t desperately want every shiny trinket that’s flashed in front of our eyes…do we? Can you confidently claim that your Christmas shopping isn’t driven by influencers, social media ads and online trends? Social media algorithms nudge and manipulate us into wanting, not only specific products, but also more of them. They write our Christmas lists for us now.

How does social media shape our Christmas shopping habits?

Do you know what a candle warmer is? I didn’t until Instagram dropped an ad for one into my feed. Its apparently one of the hottest gifts this year though (pun intended). Do I want one? A bit. Do I need one? Absolutely not. Nobody does. In no universe is it a necessity, and in most it would be considered clutter. But, the algorithms declared it to be a must-have, so it is. Algorithms monitor our online activity, from our personal details to our browsing and purchasing habits. With this information they can show us ads with a higher chance of penetrating our consciousness.

Haya Ajjan, the associate dean of the Love School of Business at Elon University, “compared social media to the Christmas windows at New York City’s Macy’s department store.” Flashy and exciting, they’re designed to draw shoppers in. Social media advertising has the same effect. The problem is, those windows are very much stationary. TV ads are confined to TV, and you can turn your head away from a billboard. But social media is in our pocket. Social media in almost always within reach. Social media compels us to look at it constantly, and constantly we do.

Ad agencies describe the system as “a personal shopper for the holidays”, instead of obviously invasive and manipulative.

While there are ways to reduce how much of our browsing is monitored, for example by rejecting and clearing cookies or using a VPN, a lot of people are unaware of how much of their data is collected and used to sell them things. The statistics shows that social media influence over purchases is only going to grow. In a 2021 survey, 70% of US shoppers used social media for gift inspiration, and this year it’s predicted that 34% of people will make purchases directly through social media platforms. In a study of Gen Z consumers in the UK, SimplicityDX found that 93% of them use social media in their Christmas shopping process, with 80% using it to shop with. The high street is an increasingly inhospitable place to shop, so of course young people will drive up ecommerce. Of course, this makes them easier to track and advertise to.

Do you think 11-year-olds would be asking for high-end skincare if an influencer hadn’t told them they need it?

High-end skincare will be on a lot of young people’s Christmas lists this year, and we have ‘skinfluencers’ to thank for it. Overpriced moisturisers, serums, exfoliators, cleansers, etc. etc. have been targeted at younger and younger audiences that can be found on social media. We’re told anti-ageing products are preventative, and you need to start in your 20s, NO WAIT in your teens, WAIT ACUTALLY in the womb!! (ok maybe not that last one). Very young children are seeing influencers their age with flawless skin telling them to buy skincare that they obviously can’t afford (because they’re children), and that is unsuitable for their skin. Commonly flogged products like retinols irritate most adult skin when used improperly. Imagine the effect on sensitive child skin.

Young people forget, or don’t realise, that these influencers are being paid to sell this stuff, or are doing it to increase their popularity. It’s not selfless advice. And thanks to editing and filters, that’s probably not even what their skin looks like. This is why the new regulations surrounding marketing on social media are so important, and minimum age regulations for social media need to be enforced.

We need to reclaim our minds and think for ourselves again.

Do we want to live our lives unsure of our own desires? Never knowing if we actually want something, or just been influenced to buy it, and immediately regretting it on arrival. Advertising and trends aren’t new, but since the ubiquity of social media, never have they been so powerful. We’re being brainwashed to be good little consumers by our phones, and it’s incredibly hard to escape. That’s why LifeBonder was created. LifeBonder wants us to be able to embrace living authentically in the Mesaverse once more. The Metaverse we’re being lead into only exists to exploit us all financially. We must avoid this. By forming explicitly offline human relationships we can embrace reality, and be confident that our thoughts are our own. Write your own Christmas list.

Polly Cumming

Polly Cumming is a British literary graduate keen on writing about human existence in this moment in time. She's thrilled to see some positive change in the world of social media.