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In this week's video, Chelsea breaks down the darker side of Instagram, and how, when used unchecked, it can lead to us being worse versions of ourselves.

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Hey, guys.

It's Chelsea from The Financial Diet. And if you haven't already, please don't forget to hit that Subscribe button for more of our amazing stuff.

And if you cannot wait to take things to the next level, come join us at our membership. We call it The Society at TFD. And it is truly life-changing, in my opinion.

Hit that Join button to learn more. And today, I'm going to talk to you guys about an app that, if you're anything like me, you have a tendency to just sort of mindlessly scroll throughout your day, open without even realizing you're opening it. and generally default to without, perhaps, realizing what it might be doing to your brain. Now, let me say one thing before I get into this list.

I like Instagram. And I think that if you go out of your way to curate a better experience on it, it can be additive to your life. I think that there are ways to fight against the trends that are imposed on you by the user experience or the algorithm and ways to make the content that you're exposed to more enriching to yourself rather than just sort of generating that vague sense of envy and dissatisfaction.

For example, at the TFD Instagram, we try to go out of our way to use the space in sort of an unconventional way. You'll notice if you follow us that our posts tend to be fairly text-heavy because we like people to learn or get something from it. We tend to avoid the sort of super-aspirational inspiration porn.

We try to make sure that things are budget-friendly and accessible with a focus on things like DIY or homemade. And we try to use it as a space to create community rather than create envy. And some of you might remember that I've mentioned that I long ago made a choice to only follow influencers over the age of 50, which has kind of totally revolutionized my perception of women, and aging, and beauty, and so many other things that I think were really important for me to internalize.

Because if I just looked at what my social media feeds default to showing me, I would be just as much a part of our youth-obsessed culture and probably way more freaked out about turning 32 in [SURPRESSED PANIC VOCALIZATION] five weeks. But suffice it to say, if you just sort of go with the flow on Instagram and use it in the way that it is sort of encouraging you to use it, it's likely that your Instagram use might be low-key making you a worse person. And that's not just me saying so.

So let's get right into it with the six ways that Instagram is making you worse off. Number one, it's changing your perception of normal through toxic comparison. Instagram is basically, at its core, a comparison machine.

Because its primary function is giving you an extremely curated window into the lives of people you know or that you think you know. And this comparison can manifest in all types of insecurity, from things like body image to our careers to our fashion sense. Clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew says she is seeing more and more envy in her consulting room, from people who, quote, can't achieve the lifestyle they want but which they see others have.

Our use of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, she says, amplifies this deeply disturbing psychological discord. I think what social media has done is make everyone accessible for comparison, she explains. In the past, people might have just envied their neighbors.

But now we can compare ourselves with everyone across the world. Windy Dryden, one of the UK's leading practitioners of cognitive behavioral therapy, calls this comparisonitis. But this comparison can become particularly dangerous when it starts co-mingling with our finances, our perception of normal financially, and what we're enticed to spend our money on.

Now, all of the sudden, through this super-curated window, we're exposed to the spending choices of the people around us in a way we otherwise never would have been. We know about the vacations they're, taking the hotels they're staying on when they go, what class in the airplane they're traveling, their wardrobe breakdown. We see their home decor.

Basically every consumer choice they're making is now something we can compare ourselves against. And even if we may not be in the same income bracket as these people, were suddenly comparing ourselves to those same choices and, in many cases, likely encouraging ourselves to make the same ones in a way we otherwise wouldn't. And this is compounded by the fact that Instagram can often create a sort of environment where you feel as though changing how you appear is the equivalent to changing who you are.

Dr. Ali Jazayeri, associate professor of clinical psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology's LA campus, thinks that there are clear and present dangers that can't be ignored. Instead of me trying to deal with things I don't like about myself, he says, I will go online and present myself in the way that I would like to be seen without any actual changes to me.

It's dangerous and very deceptive. If you look at the history of psychology, we've spent the last 100 years trying to help people know themselves better, deal with their shortcomings, deal with things they don't want to have. So we have a very reality-oriented atmosphere in our Western psychology.

Now, all of the sudden, that focus on understanding and working on the people we are inside has been upended by the fact that everyone else is now aware of our appearance. It's not so much how it feels as how it looks. Combining that with being exposed to all kinds of lifestyles you otherwise never would have been aware of, and you can easily get in a toxic spending spiral.

Number two is normalizing dubious health treatments and unqualified advice. One ongoing issue with Instagram is how easy it is for people like wellness influencers to tout these sort of holistic alternatives to traditional medicine as being a silver bullet for all kinds of health problems, even when these treatments are not FDA-approved or, in some cases, not proved to really do anything at all. Things like extra-hydrating bottled waters, personalized vitamin packets, or natural birth control tracking apps.

Detox teas have long been the snake oil of choice for many of these influencers, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars in revenue a year. But these teas have also gotten into serious trouble with regulators like the FTC. In fact, one company, Teami was forced to actually pay back customers who were harmed by their messaging.

Teami earned more than $15 million in sales for its products, which it claimed would cause weight loss or treat diseases without reliable scientific evidence, according to the FTC complaint. The FTC ordered Teami to stop these practices and return $1 million to consumers who were harmed. And beyond just the fact that convincing your followers to exchange their hard-earned money for completely dubious health treatments is icky, the entire concept of detoxing can be super dangerous.

Before it was co-opted in a recent craze, the word detox referred chiefly to a medical procedure that rids the body of dangerous, often life-threatening levels of alcohol, drugs, or poisons. The detox programs now being promoted to the health-conscious public are a different matter. These are largely do-it-yourself procedures aimed at eliminating alleged toxins that are held responsible for a variety of symptoms, including headache, bloating, joint pain, fatigue, and depression.

And according to Harvard health publishing, these are the risks of the Master Cleanse Detox diet favored by many celebrities and influencers over the years that includes consuming a laxative tea. The diet is lacking in protein, fatty acids, and other essential nutrients. Carbohydrates supply all the calories, an extremely low 600.

The daily laxative regimen can cause dehydration, deplete electrolytes, and impair normal bowel function. It can also disrupt the native intestinal flora, microorganisms that perform useful digestive functions. A person who goes on this diet repeatedly may run the risk of developing metabolic acidosis, a disruption of the body's acid-base balance, which results in excessive acidity in the blood.

Severe metabolic acidosis can lead to coma and death, all of that in the name of a little debloating. Number three, blurring the lines between advertisements and reality. One of the ways in which the content on Instagram can be particularly toxic to our sense of reality is how often the line between what is an advertisement and what is an authentic piece of content are blurred, and often intentionally so.

Now, obviously, these sort of hidden ads are problematic on a purely legal sense in that they violate FTC regulations, which you can read for yourself in the description. But the issue with this particular problem goes beyond that. Because whether or not an ad actually falls into the most technical regulations-- and I do think that even outside of this issue, it is very important for a healthy society to know when we are being marketed to and being marketed to in an ethical way-- it becomes even more problematic when what you're talking about is an influencer who is passing off what you're seeing as their authentic reality when it is mostly just a curated advertisement.

A few times over the years, I have accepted a free gift or product in exchange for posting something on my personal page. I haven't done that in years, and I don't ever do that anymore. And in fact, sometimes we've had clients at TFD who request that I be part of a campaign on my own personal platform, and I just won't do it.

I regret having done it the times I did because whatever I got out of it-- it was like a lamp or a box of something-- it was just never worth what I felt that I gave in exchange, which was, to an extent, sort of misleading my audience. And even when I have every opportunity to get free things in exchange, I actually prefer to buy them myself because I feel that that gives you a more authentic relationship with the product or service. Recently, I did an Instagram Live in collaboration with a lingerie company called Lively.

I totally could have hit them up for some free products if I'd wanted to. But I actually found it more enjoyable on the whole to go to their website, pick out products I wanted, buy them, and have a completely authentic consumer experience with them. It turns out, I do like the bras.

But I feel better saying that knowing that I'm not being paid to do so and passing it off as an authentic part of my life. When you see advertisements on TFD videos, it's clear that I'm advertising a product. I'm not placing something in a photo of my home and trying to convince you that it's my reality.

Because here's the thing. When you see something in the context of what you are perceiving to be someone's everyday reality, you are mentally processing that thing as part of their budget, as part of their realistic spending. And you're naturally going to compare yourself along those lines, even if you don't realize you're doing it.

At minimum, you will be contextualizing along those lines. So for example, if you're looking at a photo of an influencer who's wearing a very stylish outfit, and it turns out that the designer bag they're holding was gifted to them by a brand and not disclosed, and you perceive that as something they went out to buy, you are now looking at a financial funhouse mirror. And Instagram is dangerous enough on this comparison front when everyone is playing fair.

And it doesn't just stop with the first post. Because maybe, let's say, for example, an influencer takes a product in exchange for agreeing to post a photo of it. So let's say they do a room redo in collaboration with a brand.

And they do the first post, the reveal of the room. And they tag the brand. And they explain, according to FTC regulations, that this was done as part of a sponsorship.

Cool. But what about every subsequent photo they're going to be sharing of that room? They're not going to say every single time that it was an advertisement.

But it's just as much an advertisement every time. It starts to just be woven into the fabric of their life. And you, without even realizing it, are now perceiving a version of their life that is just not authentic.

And you're not being honestly marketed to. You now have a misalignment about your perceptions of your own life and how recreatable what they're showing should be for you. And this is exactly why we have regulations around this sort of thing.

Number four is normalizing unregulated child labor. So speaking of dubious advertisements, perhaps this entire phenomenon as influencer, as quasi-advertiser without really saying so, is when you get the kids involved. And let's be clear.

This issue is not unique to Instagram [COUGHS] family YouTube blogger. [COUGHS] But it is definitely something that is super prevalent on the platform. The fact is that when it comes to consumers of internet content and the brands that want to market to those consumers, kids are vital to the equation on both sides. Kids love consuming internet content, and marketers love being able to market to them.

YouTube brings in a powerful video component that strongly appeals to other kids and teens. Studies have shown that 75% of children ages 6 to 17 want to become YouTubers. Kids and teens look up to young YouTube stars and are more likely to turn to them for product recommendations in comparison to TV ads.

That 75% number, although not directly about Instagram, is truly mind-boggling. So the real issue here comes down to beyond just how fuzzily regulated the actual advertisements themselves are, when you get even further into the issue of who is participating in these advertisements, you quickly see that even the notion of regulation kind of goes out the window. Because when it comes to an influencer who's quote, unquote, "showing you their real life," it becomes very difficult to tell what is an advertisement and who in that photo is part of the ad.

Say, for example, that you have an influencer family with a large platform on Instagram. They partner with some paper towel company to do some [? spawn ?] [? con ?] with the paper towels. The kids are part of the campaign.

They're in the photos, the videos. They're posing. They're holding the paper towels, et cetera.

Are the kids part of that advertisement? Are they working? I would say so.

But that is extremely difficult to crack down on. And whether or not children can actively consent to being used to market products in this way, and given the stat I read earlier about how much these children idolize the experience of being an internet influencer, I would argue that that consent is dubious at best. When you look at what happens on average to so many child stars who are put through an industry where regulation was super strict, you can only imagine what might happen to children who had no such protections and oversight.

Seeing children be used in this way, first to amass an audience and then to monetize that audience with no clarity around how they are being protected legally and financially, is really worrisome. Because as a society, we spent a long time emerging from an era of child labor. We don't need to be slipping back into it by normalizing the practice.

Number five is breaking down the barriers to impulse shopping. As of 2019, Instagram allows brands to sell products directly to their followers, which makes it all too easy to see an item you like while scrolling and just hit the Buy button without even really thinking about it. If you're scrolling and see an item you like in an Instagram post from a retailer's page, you can tap on the item, see price, add to cart, and buy directly in the app in about 30 seconds.

And Instagram has even sneakier tactics to encourage users to buy more, such as putting the Shopping Discover button where the Notification buttons used to be, making it very easy to accidentally end up on the shopping page. Companies also use a thing called retargeting, which is why you often see the same item over and over again, even sometimes after you've purchased it. The more you see an item, the more you are inclined to think you want to buy it.

And if you don't even have to leave the app you're scrolling in order to purchase it, almost all of the typical barriers to making an impulse purchase have been removed. If you struggle with impulse buying online, you may want to consider unfollowing store and brand accounts the same way that you would unsubscribe from things like promotional email lists. Also, never, ever leave your payment information saved in your phone.

In addition to not being a great idea in terms of security, it makes it all the easier to make these purchases without really thinking about them, which is the last thing you need to do given how prone to impulse shopping this user experience is. Number six is creating confusing parasocial relationships. As I've mentioned in several of these points, one of the most confusing elements of Instagram in particular is how much people are conflating their real lives with building a brand.

Not only is this dangerous for the influencers themselves who can start to view every aspect of their lives through a prism of the kind of engagement that it will get, it's also dangerous for their followers, who start to feel that they've formed a real relationship with a person who is there to sell a product. The term parasocial relationships can be applied to a one-sided relationship a, quote, "normal person" can develop with a public figure, feeling like their actual friends or sometimes even developing romantic feelings for them despite the fact that they've never met. It initially applied to actors, musicians, and celebrities.

But it can now easily be applied to anyone who has built a following for themselves on social media. People are sharing more of themselves across easy-access platforms. And followers often believe they're seeing the full life of a public figure rather than a carefully constructed persona.

Public figures aren't intentionally trying to trick people, but the suggestion of intimacy and connection that comes with seeing what one imagines to be the real life of a public figure is really a brand-building tool, no matter how authentic and real a persona might feel. People in the media and entertainment fields are now expected to craft a social media presence that aligns with their interests and to engage with their followers on social media. Whether it's an editor known for devastating dunks, a good-natured comedian who gives people friendly pep talks, or a journalist who offers exquisite, profanity-laced commentary on the news of the day, all of these social media presences are, to some extent, personas.

Now, this can be dangerous for influencers for obvious reasons. In addition to sometimes commenters and followers getting a little too overfamiliar and rude, like some of you F-ers are on my pictures of food that I post where you're basically screaming at me if I don't give enough of a recipe-- like, I'm not a chef! I'm just posting pictures of food that I like, geez!

It can get very serious very quickly. Some of you might be familiar with the singer and YouTuber Christina Grimmie, who was actually killed by an overly zealous fan who had become obsessed with her after a concert. But even in its best iterations, unlike a traditional movie star, a lot of these Instagram influencers are really selling the idea that the person you're seeing is a real person and not, to some extent, a crafted brand, which it is.

The person that you see on YouTube is not the person I am in my everyday life. The reason you never see my husband on camera is because I don't feel comfortable bringing that part of my life onto YouTube. And it's important for me to maintain a sense of distance between the person who's presenting you interesting financial commentary and the person who lives a normal life in a normal neighborhood and has normal thoughts and feelings.

But Instagram rewards blurring these barriers and inculcating these parasocial relationships that can quickly spin out of control. In the end, every social media platform is as good or as bad as you want to curate it to be. You have the ability to make different choices and to choose what you are and aren't exposed to.

In its best iteration, Instagram can be hugely additive to your life and provide a nice source of inspiration, and connection, and expanding out of your normal box and comfort zone on many different fronts in your life, everything from trying new recipes to seeing new areas of the world you might want to travel to getting inspiration for a DIY project. But in its worst iteration, it can become downright dangerous for our mental health. So you decide the Instagram you want to experience and ditch the rest.

As always, guys, thank you for watching. And don't forget to hit the Subscribe and Join buttons and to come back every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday for new and awesome videos. Goodbye!