Editorial: Advertisements as digital pests in the internet era

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"Fighting for people’s attention today has increasingly become more difficult with smartphones buzzing in our pockets every few minutes with news updates, Instagram likes, and email notifications." Credit: Luis Ricardo

Whether you’re looking up a Youtube video, scrolling through Instagram, looking at Facebook, listening to Spotify, watching Hulu, or reading The New York Times online, you can’t escape the commercialization of the internet. 

Copious amounts of memes have been made about targeted advertising based on your search history and likes. For example, after googling ‘cat collars’ all your advertisements will now be related to cats and cat accessories. 

The function of advertising is for a company to persuade people to buy a certain product or service, by informing said person of the amazing-ness of their product. 

Advertisements are certainly not a new invention. Since the 1800s American companies, particularly newspapers, have used advertisements as a way to generate revenue. As more forms of media were invented, i.e. radio, television, internet, and social media, companies could now use multiple platforms to capitalize off even more ads. 

Hotwired, a former subset of the magazine Wired, produced the first commercial online magazine in 1994. It sold the first ever ‘banner ad’, a term coined for the ad’s position on the screen. According to The Atlantic over 44% of people clicked on the banner ad, which included a black background with the colorful rainbow words, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE?” with an arrow pointing to the white words, YOU WILL. Turns out, it was an ad campaign for AT&T. After the success of this ad, other websites like Yahoo started to capitalize on this phenomena. 

As it turns out, people back then were annoyed at these ads too. The New York Times in 1996 wrote that banners were “roundly condemned as boring and ineffective because of their size and usually prosaic nature.”

But nowadays it’s rare to not see an ad on popular websites and streaming services. Free services like Pandora music and Spotify include advertisements as a source of revenue for them, but if you pay for a subscription, the main perk is not hearing advertisements between each song. 

Even though the internet is public, advertisements just seem like an invasive presence to a person’s viewing experience. Especially if you are scrolling through your personal account and get accosted by a political ad; which holds a special level of aggravation on social media.

Politics strong presence online translates directly into their ads on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Just last week Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, according to The Wall Street Journal, formally stated that Twitter would ban political advertisements after Nov. 22. The main complaints come from those that believe these political ads are spreading misinformation about other candidates. 

Contrary to Mark Zuckerberg’s stance to not get rid of political ads, Jack Dorsey’s action to eliminate ads from Twitter was based on his belief that a “political message’s reach should be earned, not bought.” Zuckerberg’s stance was based on political ads being an “important part of voice” for local candidates and advocacy groups that would not get much media attention. 

This raises the question, is it fair that ads are fighting for our attention and trying to capitalize on our attention on sites which we just want to share photos with our family and friends on? 

Fighting for people’s attention today has increasingly become more difficult with smartphones buzzing in our pockets every few minutes with news updates, Instagram likes, and email notifications. No wonder companies are capitalizing off social media use, because where else would they? Billboards? Physical newspapers? 

One thing is for sure, though: advertisements, like the internet, are here to stay. 

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