How to Avoid Misleading Advertising on Social Media

Since its inception, social media has made quite an impact on the world of advertising. From Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and TikTok, people are spending more time on social media now than ever before. Thus, advertisers are using social media to reach audiences, allowing them to closely target their market segments while still reaching larger, relevant audiences. However, this also opens many people up to fall victim to misleading advertising on social media. The nature of social media is fast-paced and focused on what you “like”, algorithms are becoming increasingly better at serving audiences what interests them, leaving room for messages and images to be exaggerated or distorted. Below are some of the top ways to spot misleading ads while scrolling through social media, and how to prevent yourself from falling victim to them.


Check for hidden fees and the word “free”:

Unfortunately, some ads on social media entice purchases by falsely promising things like free shipping. As always, there’s almost no such thing as getting something completely “free.” So, when you spot an instance of “free”, check the fine print for shipping fees built into the cost of the product, international fees, and other hidden charges before you hit that ‘order’ button. A smart practice to always keep in mind when ordering from the internet is to check the reviews of who have shopped or purchased from the company. Internet reviews, comments and recommendations can be your greatest ally.


Watch out for “going out of business” sales:

If your page is like mine, then you’ve seen this before as you were scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook. “Going out of business” flash sales create a sense of urgency — buy now or you may never get this product. Ads that imply their company is shutting down, (and are therefore trying to get rid of everything as soon as possible,) are more often than not simply marketing scams. Check comment sections and company reviews before buying in – and if comments on the post are turned completely off, it’s a safe bet they’ll still be around next month or you shouldn’t trust them in the first place.


Remind yourself pictures can be edited:

While most people are aware of photoshop these days, the extent to which it exists on almost all social media is a gray area. Ads on the internet are staged, edited, filtered, and airbrushed to present the product in, no pun intended, the best light possible. Have you ever noticed wavy walls or distorted backgrounds behind people on Instagram? Or ever wondered why the food you ordered doesn’t look as fresh and juicy as it did on your screen? Advertisements rely heavily on staging, and the same goes for pictures on social media. Ads, especially those within the food, beauty and retail categories, rely heavily on staging. Before you purchase, look over the materials and ingredients used to make these products to determine if what you see is what you get. And as always, check out comments and reviews to see what others thought of their experiences.


Celebrity endorsements can be inauthentic:

Just because a celebrity is endorsing a product or service doesn’t actually mean they use it, or believe in it. For example, Sugarbear Hair Vitamins often use celebrities to endorse their product with little to no evidence that the celebrities are actually taking the vitamins. Consumers are given the perception that their hair will look as healthy and beautiful as the Kardashians purely by taking the vitamins, resulting in sales. A look at Sugarbear Hair’s website shows their products are manufactured in the USA in facilities that use FDA-approved guidelines, but does not hold actual FDA approval. Sugarbear Hair’s Instagram posts rely heavily on celebrity endorsement to veil this fact.

There’s no doubt advertising plays a significant role in influencing what people buy, yet it’s also important to mention that not all advertising is misleading. But, as ads continue to penetrate every facet of our lives, right down to our phone screens, these helpful tips should help online shoppers better spot misleading ads to avoid unnecessary purchases and save his or her hard-earned cash.