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1. [Insert hyper-specific product made out of plastic that will be used a handful of times before being chucked into a dumpster, which eventually makes its way to the ocean, never quite degrading into a harmless molecule to the ocean’s ecosystems.]
Promising review: “After a company owned by another company, owned by a conglomerate, owned by Jeff Bezos, bombarded me with sponsored BuzzFeed articles promoting this product, I was convinced that I had to have it! Before reading these articles, I didn’t realize this [hyper-specific need] was unfulfilled. My life has improved a minuscule amount.”
2. Now that I’ve caught your attention by offering you a commodity to purchase, I’m here to critique that very same behavior exhibited by “leisure reading” websites like BuzzFeed.
I love scrolling through BuzzFeed to quickly assuage my boredom as much as the next Gen Z-er — who doesn’t want to take a quiz on which Starbucks fall drink you are or to read 35 (probably made-up) shocking confessions from users? — but the time to call out the increasing commodification of the platform is overdue. Most commonly in partnership with Amazon, practically every other article published on the website promotes a lengthy list of products in the hopes that you will eventually cave and buy one you probably don’t need. This direction taken by the company has devastating social and environmental consequences, but least recognized is its impact on the “common sense” surrounding consumerism. By verbalizing the beliefs and actions that are normalized through repeated exposure to product advertisements — like environmental degradation as a way of everyday life — we can begin to critique them and propose alternatives.
3. The social implications of BuzzFeed Shopping become immediately evident when I hover over the product links, which almost always begin with https://amazon.com.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and similar conglomerates have committed egregious social and environmental offenses — need I elaborate more? — and there is no reason to financially support them with the unnecessary items aggressively promoted by BuzzFeed. By no means is this an argument against purchasing essentials from Amazon, but I’d hardly describe a charger that makes your phone levitate as essential. (No, I don’t care how cool it is.)
4. Next, I notice the products themselves — right down to their molecular makeup.
Single-use mascara, decorative plastic limes and a waterproof speaker that holds your beer while in the shower — all products recently promoted by BuzzFeed — require resource-intensive manufacturing and are very unlikely to be recycled. The chemicals required to produce the disposable makeup, the plastic required to produce the lime and the battery required to create the speaker — all products that you’d be hard pressed to argue are necessities — will linger in the environment indefinitely once disposed of. The production of toxic chemicals results in toxic wastewater dumped into streams, the microplastics that result from plastic production have already entered our bodies and the minerals mined for the speaker’s battery require intensive labor and end up poisoning workers and ecosystems. Nevermind the intensive carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions produced by the shipping industry to move these products thousands of miles from overseas to your home. When you consider the sheer volume at which these unneeded products are being produced, purchased and then disposed of, the outlook for our Earth becomes quite grim.
5. To be clear, this is not a “personal responsibility” argument. Just the opposite, in fact.
The BuzzFeed reader who logs off the website having bought the decorative limes is not at fault for buying a disposable product they didn’t need. While perusing BuzzFeed Shopping for this article I was nearly convinced that I needed the shower beer speaker. From the punchy, entertaining format of these articles to the promising reviews written by “real people,” it’s incredibly compelling to click that affiliate Amazon link and to press buy. However, it is simultaneously true that not purchasing these products in the first place would alleviate the burdens they pose on workers and the planet. How can we resolve these conflicting viewpoints on the root causes of consumerist culture?
6. The “common sense” framework might help. Specifically, the ways that companies manipulate you to view rampant consumerism as normal, as devoid of consequences on other humans or the planet — all to benefit their bottom line and to ensure infinite economic growth.
Sheer repetition of consumerist actions helps entrench this “common sense.” The BuzzFeed Shopping homepage literally has no end. (It appears you can click “load more” at the bottom of the page indefinitely.) Of course, BuzzFeed is not the only guilty party here — like most problems in the world, Jeff Bezos is to blame for the strong partnership between BuzzFeed and Amazon — but this behavior leaves an especially bad taste in my mouth knowing that BuzzFeed projects a prominent left-wing image. What about deliberately leading consumers to fund devastating resource extraction and labor exploitation for products they truly don’t need is progressive?
7. I understand that BuzzFeed’s entire business model relies on these affiliate links. I’m not suggesting that they stop these partnerships entirely (although they should really find an alternate business model that is more in line with social and environmental dignity ASAP), but at the very least they should be much more intentional with the products that they promote.
What could soon be a promising review: “After perusing a new-and-improved BuzzFeed Shopping page, I was pleased to find lists promoting small businesses with a focus on those owned by marginalized groups, affordable essentials, eco-friendly products and products that make navigating the world more accessible for disabled folks.”