Why are there so many misleading and deceptive contents nowadays? What should we do as the audience to be a savvy consumer?
I recently watched a video on KiraTV, exploring its exposé on Jake Tran. I also encountered Johnny Harris’ fact-checks on Money & Macro, Tai Lopez’s exposés, and Coffezilla’s revelations uncovering scams orchestrated by influencers and YouTubers.
There are many forms of misleading or deceptive contents nowadays. On websites, clickbait titles in articles seem to be considered normal now. There are also blatant scam product ads disguised as articles or reviews. There are also those who use tricks like Fextralife, which automatically plays embedded videos for farming views.
YouTube and other user-generated content platforms are no different. There are contents promoting scams and ‘get rich quick’ schemes by fake gurus. Advertisements disguised as reviews? Sure. Sponsorship from companies with dubious products? Why not?
So, why are there so many misleading or even deceptive contents now? In my view, there are three fundamental causes.
Let’s discuss them one by one.
The Scammers and The Overly Aggressive Marketers
Firstly, The primary cause rests with the company or its employees.
If the product is clearly a scam or illegal, it’s a clear cut. Without those scammers, of course there will be no content promoting them.
What’s interesting to discuss is the legit companies, whose marketers rely on any means, perhaps out of frustration, just to meet targets, follow orders, or for other reasons.
For example, I once saw a press conference where a mobile esports pro player gave a testimonial for a laptop product. To me, this is weird and potentially misleading. If they’re a pro player for PC games discussing laptops, it might make sense. But if they typically play on a smartphone and then endorse laptops or PCs, it’s just weird and irrelevant. Even if they’re a pro player in PC gaming promoting laptops, peripherals, or components, in my opinion, there should be a big disclaimer. Like, how deep is their knowledge about the technology or the product?
Let’s say, a travel content creator is paid to review a laptop. The aim of the marketing might be to target the fans outside its general niche, such as the travel community. However, the influencer might not understand the significance of a processor’s performance in a laptop from one generation to another. If their previous laptop had an Intel Core 5th gen processor and the reviewed laptop is now on the 13th gen, the performance leap will be significant, regardless of the brand.
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To me, this has potential for misleading information. Suppose a viewer watching the review already has a laptop with a 13th gen processor. If they buy the reviewed laptop solely based on the influencer’s ‘super-fast’ claim, the performance leap might not be as drastic as what the influencer felt when experiencing from gen 5 to gen 13.
The Media, Influencers, and Celebrities
Apart from the scammers or ignorant marketing people, deceptive or misleading contents also arises due to the media, influencers, KOLs, and celebrities. This is the second fundamental factor.
Even if there are scam products like crypto and NFTs, fraudulent investments, MLMs, etc., without media or influencers promoting them, they wouldn’t spread widely.
Let me clarify something before we go further. The roles of the media, journalists, influencers, and their associates can’t be generalized.
Just like before, I differentiated between companies genuinely selling illegal and scam products and those whose marketers are just overly aggressive and ignorant. Those who create the deceptive content might not all have malicious intentions. Indeed, there are people with zero integrity who knowingly promote scam products without caring, as long as they get paid. But in my experience, many are just ignorant or oblivious. They just simply don’t know or are too lazy to research. They might not be aware of a sponsor’s company history, product quality, and other factors.
Or maybe they don’t have any other choice. For instance, if their boss orders them or they desperately need to make money.
That was the second factor. The third factor is the audience.
Even if there are scammers and those who make deceptive contents, it won’t work if the audience is critical and sceptical.
For example, MLMs don’t seem to be as rampant as before. At least compared to the ’90s or early 2000s. It seems people now know that MLMs aren’t as great as they promise.
However, greedy, gullible, or ignorant people will always exist, fueling the market for deceit.
Economic strains exacerbate the situation. House prices are soaring. Previously, in most families, only the father working could afford a house. Now, both parents need to work, and even then, buying a house isn’t guaranteed.
Education costs, like university fees, are also rising. Plus, the discrimination against high school graduates in the eyes of companies, HR personnel, and their associates is getting stronger. Previously, a bachelor’s degree held prestige; however, nowadays, possessing a master’s degree or at least a bachelor’s degree from expensive universities has become almost a prerequisite to be deemed ‘competent’.
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Yet, amidst these challenges, media, influencers, and creators with integrity persist. As consumers, it’s imperative to be critical, conduct comprehensive research, and acknowledge our biases.
On the other hand, compared to the past, when information was controlled by a few companies or even the state, I believe the current situation is still better. Because there are channels like Coffezilla, Computer Clan, Money & Macro, Patrick Boyle, Gamers Nexus, and many others that act as a sort of peer-review or expose the flaws, oddities, or cunning practices of other channels, media, websites, or even brands.