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Proposed Law to Require Social Media to Offer Algorithm-Free Version

Proposed Law to Require Social Media to Offer Algorithm-Free Version

Proposed Law to Require Social Media to Offer Algorithm-Free Version 1

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced a new bill that would make it mandatory for services that use algorithms to serve content to offer a version that allows users to turn that feature off.

Called the Filter Bubble Transparency Act, the bill would require services like Facebook and Instagram to offer a version of their platforms described as “input transparent” that doesn’t pull data on users in order to generate algorithmic recommendations. The bill would exempt smaller companies with fewer than 500 employees, those with annual gross receipts lower than $50,000,000 in the last three-year period, and those that gather data on fewer than one million users annually.

Axios reports that the bill would not do away with algorithmic-based recommendation systems entirely, but would instead make it a requirement that the service includes a toggle that allows users to voluntarily turn that function off. The bill also states that those platforms that continue to use recommendation algorithms need to explicitly inform users that the algorithm bases recommendations on information it gleans from analyzing their personal data. This can come in the form of a one-time notification but would need to be clearly presented, the bill stipulates.

A major sticking point in the saga of Meta and its companies Facebook and Instagram is how the company has, or has not, been looking out for the safety of its users. After a bombshell report revealed that Facebook, now meta, was aware that its platforms were toxic for young people, the company has faced an onslaught of continued revelations about how little transparency it provides to its users.

At center stage in this conversation has been Facebook and Instagram’s insistence on using algorithms to generate feed content, a feature the company moved to over chronological timelines. Axios notes that the recent situation involving Facebook has renewed interest in bills that seek to give more people say in how algorithms shape their online experiences and shows action behind the anger over how platforms use algorithms to target users with specialized content.

“Its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions,” Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has said. “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money.”

Facebook has repeatedly denied claims that it doesn’t do its best to protect its users, and specifically said that it continues to make “significant improvements” to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content on its platform.

One argument behind this new proposed bill is if the algorithm was removed entirely, the need to make improvements to it would be moot.


Image credits: Elements of header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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Instagram’s Chief Compares Social Media Dangers to Car Accidents

Instagram's Chief Compares Social Media Dangers to Car Accidents

Instagram's Chief Compares Social Media Dangers to Car Accidents 2

In response to a Wall Street Journal story that revealed Facebook is aware that social media can harm teens, Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri says the dangers of his app are akin to car accidents, a comparison that has drawn considerable ridicule.

After the Wall Street Journal published a story that leaked internal Facebook studies that showed that social media can be toxic to teens, Instagram quickly released a response. The social media company did not deny the findings but claimed the Journal’s article only focused on the negative.

“At Instagram, we look at the benefits and the risks of what we do. We’re proud that our app can give voice to those who have been marginalized, that it can help friends and families stay connected from all corners of the world, that it can prompt societal change; but we also know it can be a place where people have negative experiences, as the Journal called out,” Instagram wrote. “Our job is to make sure people feel good about the experience they have on Instagram, and achieving that is something we care a great deal about.”

In addition to the detailed response on the Instagram blog, Mosseri was interviewed on the Recode Media Podcast where he attempted to defend the negative effects of the platform by comparing social media to cars. As Mashable put it, his response uses a metaphor where it seems as though he is saying that just as with the existence of cars, on social media, some people are just going to get run over.

“We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large cars create way more value in the world than they destroy,” Mosseri said. “And I think social media is similar.”

Mosseri’s sentiment was met with an onslaught of ridicule as many pointed out that cars, unlike social media, are heavily regulated, regularly inspected, and are illegal to operate for those under the age of 16.

Others noted that the comparison, even taken at face value, is still not a good one. Cars arguably are a net negative as well, as their emissions have been tied to the pollution that causes global warming.

Regardless of Mosserri’s spin, Instagram and Facebook are facing increasing pressure from lawmakers who focus on consumer protection. Last week, two leading members of the Senate Commerce Committee said they would launch an investigation into Facebook and take additional steps to see what other data the social media company might have but is not releasing.

“Big Tech has become the new Big Tobacco,” Representative Ken Buck (R-CO), a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee said in a tweet. “Facebook is lying about how their product harms teens.”

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LAPD Collects Social Media Info of Civilians to Conduct Mass Surveillance

LAPD Collects Social Media Info of Civilians to Conduct Mass Surveillance

LAPD Collects Social Media Info of Civilians to Conduct Mass Surveillance 3

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has directed its officers to collect the social media information of every person they stop and interview, which could be used to surveil targetted groups en masse according to a new report.

According to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice, LAPD officers have been instructed to collect this information from civilians regardless if that person has been arrested or even accused of a crime.

The practice, which the Brennan Center found was not being reproduced by any other police department in the country after reviewing 40 other police agencies in the United States, is a method by which the leadership of the LAPD is ordering and authorizing its officers to engage in extensive mass surveillance of social media without any oversight.

Additionally, the Brennan Center reports that at the beginning of 2021, the LAPD added a new tool called Media Sonar, which can build detailed profiles on individuals and link them together using social networks. The Center argues that this along with the requirement of its officers to collect social media information greatly expands the police organization’s ability to conduct wide-ranging social media surveillance.

“This has serious implications for people’s privacy and First Amendment rights, especially for communities of color and activists,” writes Mary Pat Dwyer of the Brennan Center. “Social media surveillance can facilitate surveillance of protest activity and police presence at protests, which can chill both online and offline speech. Further, the highly contextual nature of social media also makes it ripe for misinterpretation.”

The Brennan Center has released documents it has obtained over the course of the last several months that show the practice as part of its goal to increase transparency and accountability for how the police in Los Angeles are monitoring civilians on social media.

As noted by The Guardian, the LAPD added “social media accounts: as a line on the physical field interview cards the department uses in 2015.

“Similar to a nickname or an alias, a person’s online persona or identity used for social media… can be highly beneficial to investigations,” the previous LAPD chief, Charlie Beck, wrote.

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The practice of collecting social media information has largely gone unnoticed and the scale by which the police department uses that information is also likely largely unknown by the civilian population.

When the department obtains a social media handle or name from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or others, the organization can then use that individual’s public connections to form a link between specifically targetted groups.

The Brennan Center reports that there are few limitations to offset the broad authority the LAPD gives its officers to track and surveil social media accounts. Officers do not need to document the searches they conduct, their purpose, or their justification. They also do not need to seek supervisory approval and there are no standards for the types of cases that would warrant oversight of social media accounts.

“While officers are instructed not to conduct social media surveillance for personal, illicit, or illegal purposes, they seem otherwise to have complete discretion over whom to surveil, how broadly to track their online activity, and how long to monitor them,” Dwyer reports.

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The LAPD encourages its officers to engage in social media “listening” which is broadly defined as the “continuous conduct of searches of content on the Internet for any discussions, posts, videos, blogs, and online conversations about the Department or other topics of interest to the Department. The purpose of listening is to discover what is being said online, raise awareness about the community, and put oneself in the position to correct false information or rumors.”

There are no limits that are placed on the scope of this continuous monitoring, and there is no oversight to determine if any monitoring is deployed in an inappropriate manner or discriminatorily.

Media Sonar, as shown in a snapshot below obtained by the Brennan Center from the LAPD, improves on the police department’s ability to track and surveil civilians through social media.

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Source: The Los Angeles Police Department via The Brennan Center for Justice

The point of Media Sonar, according to the report, is to “address a potential threat or incident before its occurrence.”

The LAPD has requested federal funding to help pay for Media Sonar, which it says will be used for “terrorism prevention” but there are those who fear it will be used against protestors, according to The Guardian.

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“The broad use of social media and the lack of oversight accompanying it, as these new documents put into high relief, is a matter of significant concern,” Dwyer concludes in her report. “Law enforcement should not have a free pass to broadly trawl the internet without accountability or oversight.”


Image credits: Unless otherwise noted, all photos licensed via Depositphotos.

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Brits lose over two days selecting social media images

Brits lose over two days selecting social media images

New research shows social media users are suffering from content fatigue as they lose over two days a year selecting the best photos to share.


Research released by GoPro has shown that Brits are suffering from content fatigue, with respondents reporting that they spend 21 to 30 minutes on average sorting through photos after an event to identify the stand out shots; resulting in over two days a year lost to curating their camera roll.

As phones are popular devices for capturing image and video, “three out of five respondents stated that they feel overwhelmed by the volume of photo and video content stored on their phones” said a GoPro representative.

They added, “the research found prior to the pandemic almost half of global respondents felt pressure to share memories on social media (49%). Almost one third of UK respondents felt this pressure and as a result often felt unable to enjoy being “in the moment”, with four in 10 respondents saying that if they don’t flag a “keeper” photo right away, it’s “basically gone forever””.

The research also found:

  • “42% of UK respondents reported that they tend to be the designated photo-taker at family and friends gatherings.”
  • “The most common reason for losing memories is accidentally deleting a photo or video. As well as being forced to delete photos/videos due to running out of storage (46%), running out of space on phone/camera during an important event (35%) and losing important photos/videos by failing to save from a text or email (29%).”
  • “76% of UK respondents admit to shouting or cursing upon realising they had misplaced a photo or video that was important to them.”

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Rick Loughery, GoPro’s Vice President of Global Marketing and Communications said: “You know a ‘keeper’ photo or memory when you see it, but the data clearly demonstrates that losing track of that perfect shot is all too easy.”

The research marks the launch of GoPro’s new app, GoPro Quik, which aims to make it quick and easy for users to get the most out of their favourite photos and videos, no matter what phone or camera you’re using. Quik hopes to solve the “black hole” problem of our phone’s camera roll and ensures users will never lose track of their favourite photos and videos again.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from OnePoll. The total sample size was 4,031 across eight countries including the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, France, Germany, India, Japan and Korea. The survey was carried out online. OnePoll are members of ESOMAR and employ members of the MRS.


Further reading

8 Creative Things To Do With a GoPro At Home

How to succeed on Instagram

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One Dead After Media and Journalists Violently Attacked in Tbilisi, Georgia

One Dead After Media and Journalists Violently Attacked in Tbilisi, Georgia

Cameraman Alexander Lashkarava was one of the dozens of members of the media who were beaten in an attack on LGBTQ activists and media in Tbilisi, Georgia. Organizers of the event called off the march after violent groups opposing it stormed and ransacked their offices and targeted journalists.

As reported by The Guardian, far-right assailants who were protesting a planned LGBTQ pride march attacked a television station and assaulted journalists. Lashkarava, who worked for the independent station TV Pirveli, was found dead in his bead early on Sunday, the channel reported.

Lashkarava suffered a concussion and broken bones in his face and underwent surgery after the attack, but was discharged on July 8 to recover at home, according to news reports. His mother later found him dead.

The exact cause of his death has not yet been revealed.

More than 50 journalists were attacked by the far-right anti-LBGTQ rights groups who were protesting the march in Tbilisi, causing its cancelation. Lashkarava’s death has outraged humans rights activists in Georgia who, according to Aljazeera, blame the local authorities for emboldening the hate groups and failing to keep journalists safe and LGBTQ supporters out of harm’s way.

Georgia’s president Salome Zourabichvili said that she visited Lashkarava’s family and offers condolences to the entire media community, and all of Georgia. She has called for a formal investigation and for those who committed the crimes to be punished.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), based in New York, also issued a statement.

“Georgian authorities must thoroughly investigate whether Lekso Lashkarava died as a result of the assault he suffered while covering a demonstration,” Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director, says. “Those who attacked him and some 50 other journalists during a disgraceful display of anti-media violence should be brought to justice.”

According to the CPJ, police have launched a criminal investigation according to Article 115 of the Georgian criminal code, which pertains to “driving a person to suicide” which is often used when a body is found without an obvious cause of death.

Thousands have rallied in the streets of Georgia’s capital in response to news of his death.

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Photographer Combines Protest and Social Media to Spur Social Action

Photographer Combines Protest and Social Media to Spur Social Action

Photographer Combines Protest and Social Media to Spur Social Action 9

Photographer Dinda Avena wants to inspire those who have experienced and survived violence, feel unsafe in public, who are suffering due to sexual identity, for those whose land is being seized, and for all marginalized communities to not let their voices fade away.

Dinda Advena (she/her) is a queer photographer from Indonesia. She started taking documentary and stage photography for the punk music community and has has exhibited her work through Sweden, Singapore, Malaysia, and all over Indonesia. Right now she is focusing on gender issues, women’s rights, environmental justice, and Indonesian landscapes.

“May your spirit and flame continue to burn, even though our voices are fading away. Happy Kartini’s Day,” Advena wrote when she submitted her photos online to Scopio.

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“This year hit different because of the pandemic, especially after the recent Church bombing attack – it is not safe to march in the street. The team decided to do online action to ask everyone who believes in women’s issues to do the same: taking pictures one by one in different locations while holding posters of each demand, then post it in Social Media.”

Kartini’s Day takes place on April 21 every year and is a symbol of modern women’s empowerment in Indonesia.

“Every year on April 21, women from Indonesia ban together for Kartini’s Day to commemorate Rayden Ayu Kartini – who was a fierce women’s right activist and critic who questioned the Javanese norms created by the male-dominated society,” Avena explains. “Rayden Kartini’s countless letters and words would become a national symbol that empowers Indonesian women to stand strong for their rights today.”

It’s not men who we want to fight, but old-fashioned opinions and old customs. – R.A. Kartini

This year, women marched to help seek the advancement of The Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill (Indonesian: Rancangan Undang-Undang Penghapusan Kekerasan Seksual, abbreviated RUU PKS). The consideration of this bill has been going on for years and it almost got dropped due to “difficulties” in arranging the bill, according to the House Commission VII.

Citizens like Dinda have taken it upon themselves to come together using tools like photography and social media to ensure that this bill, among others, are no longer”‘waited on” and “passed.”

Dinda and fellow activists make themselves visible in a crowd with their message and use photography to amplify that to everyone online.

It gets people looking at the message, one way or another. Men and women alike joined in to help spread the message behind gender equality, equal pay, and support the changes.

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This sign reads “Catcalling is harassment, not a joke”

“But this march is not only to confront gender inequality issues but is done to ensure the safety and protection of Indonesian women.”

This march has helped to make significant strides in the nation and will continue year after year as it is pivotal to advancing women’s rights that are far too often neglected or waited on.

You can explore Dinda’s photography on Scopio here. She also recommends you search these hashtags to see more on this message: #PuanDanKawanMelawan #WMJ2021 #WomensMarch #SahkanRUUPKS #HariKartini


This article provided courtesy of Scopio. Scopio is the most diverse community-based platform in the world where artists can sell their work and get hired in over 150 countries. Check out their community of 14k plus contributors and a library of over 400k authentic images.

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The Inevitable Convergence of Social Media, Commerce, and Visual Content

The Inevitable Convergence of Social Media, Commerce, and Visual Content

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You walk through the supermarket aisle until you face various choices for the product you wish to eat. In the case of cereals, it can be 20 or more different options. You reach out and pick one, which you feel is the right decision based on a well-educated process.

In fact, when you make that decision, you are executing on thousands of messages received during most of your entire lifetime—each one with the sole purpose of influencing that decision. In commerce, that purchasing act is called the second moment of truth. The moment when millions of dollars of marketing (at least for cereal companies) is converted into a purchase decision.

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The second moment of truth.

Traditionally, the two have been geographically and historically separated. You receive marketing messages at breakfast while reading your daily digest on your phone, and you will be buying in the late afternoon.

Ecommerce, for most of its brief existence, has followed the same schema. Advertising here, shopping there. But not anymore. Everything is converging to one all-encompassing moment of truth at one place and one time, with visual content at its core. The customer journey is now reduced to an instant and one visual.

There are three main steps in a customer journey:

  1. The awareness of the product
  2. The consideration of the product
  3. The purchase of the product

Up to now, they all happened at different places and over time. Now, it’s all converging at one place and time and all within one visual content.

Nowhere can this be experienced more than on social media since we spent most of our time. All platform owe their success and operate with visual content as their core interface. Stage one was to use those visuals to capture audiences. Stage 2 two was to transform those views into advertising; stage three adds a “buy” button: Discovery, conversion, purchase, now all in one image or video.

Instagram displays an ad every 3 to 4 posts and uses retargeting profusely. Each ad contains multiple visuals introducing a product you have shown interest in and leading to a shop now button. That one image or video contains the whole customer journey.

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A familiar view: an ad on Instagram

The numbers confirm the story: 81% of people out of over 1 billion use Instagram every month to help research products and services. With an average conversion rate of 1.85 percent, that’s 14 million clicks on a “buy” button of an image every month.

Identical scenario for Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Snap. Photography has a new role, one much harder to master. It has to introduce, convince, and sell all within one frame. It has to capitalize on the instant attention span. With video, it’s an identical challenge, all within the maximum of 60 seconds granted by most social media platforms. For brands, the bar is making the brutal journey feel seamless, which is why they rely on influencers’ expertise. They have mastered converting content into captive audiences and come with built-in trust. All that is needed is the “buy” button.

The product now comes to you, fully packaged with all the information you might need to make a purchase decision, including the cash register. Everything is transformed into an impulse buy, one carefully vetted via retargeting by your shown interest. All compressed in one frame or 60-second video, right next to those party pix of last night shared by you BFF.

Shop and share. The lines are blurred. Your friends, brands, product, purchase, parties are all part of the same flow. Click Like here, click buy there; who is that at my front door? A delivery or a friend? The beginning and end of your buyer journey are all in here, in one frame.


About the author: Paul Melcher is a photography and technology entrepreneur based in New York, and the founder of Kaptur, a news magazine about the visual tech space. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his writings on his blog, Thoughts of a Bohemian. Melcher offers his services as a consultant as well. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Stock photos licensed from Depositphotos

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‘Anti-Social’ Photo App Challenges What Social Media Should Be

'Anti-Social' Photo App Challenges What Social Media Should Be

Minutiaecoins itself as the “anti-social” social app. It challenges conventional design by restricting users to just one minute of usage per day and anonymizes shares in an attempt to encourage users to “embrace the boring and mundane.”

Four years ago, the “Anti-Social” photo project “Minutiae” was released through the Apple App Store. Since then, it has amassed a modest 25,000 downloads, which may not seem like a lot but is still impressive given the original art project’s budget was just $10,000 and featured no outside investment.

The concept of the app further adds to that impressive statistic.

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Minutiae encourages its users to shirk overly complicated, scripted, planned “influencer” images that have come to dominate the social media landscape through a unique design. The app will randomly send subscribers an alarm to remind them to record whatever happens to be around them at that particular moment, and they are encouraged to do so regardless of how “boring” that might be.

The randomized alarm is sent to every user at the same time (regardless of time zone), meaning most of the photos on the app are captured around the world at that same moment. Once the participants have taken their photos, they are then allotted just sixty seconds to browse their own chronological timeline or that of a random stranger they have been matched with. Once the minute is up, the app shuts down and users have to wait until the next random alarm to be able to use the app again.

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The anti-social app keeps everything anonymous with the focus on the “moment” in time. It is so dedicated to this cause that users cannot “follow” or subscribe to another user’s feed. As strange as this sounds, the founders have said that this process is itself is a work of art.

“Our thesis is not that social media is ‘bad,’ just that it ends up making us look at the world, and documenting our experiences, in a very particular way,” the founders said when the application originally launched. “Through our use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., we are in the continuous process (often unconsciously) of refining filters that determine how we capture our lives… Minutiae frees us from this pressure to perform since you no longer have the option to choose what you are documenting—connections are singular and random.”

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The company says it further “frees” its user base by the one-minute per day restriction of use which is a wildly different business model from the mainstream market. The app is meant to capture unscripted, uncurated, unfiltered moments in everyday life.

“Moments we don’t fully value until they’re gone,” says co-creator Martin Adolfsson.

Some users have reported using the app as a creative stimulus during the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, since they were often stuck in the very same space for so long, thus keeping them quite motivated to capture something new.

Since the application only lets you use it for a minute a day, to “complete” a full cycle on the app takes 1,440 days of use (just about four years). Therefore, at the time of publication around 40 percent of the original subscribers are finishing their first cycle. According to the company, this retention rate is “a level that most tech companies could only dream about.”

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As users finish their cycle, Minutiae provides them with a way to view the evolution of their life over the last few years. While many (if not most) of the photos appear boring, they will inevitably hold a lot of personal value to the creator and that is what the project and app are all about.

Once the cycle is complete, users can get a complete download of their photo archive that they can also print in a limited edition book. According to the company website, they are limiting these books to just 100 people, and apparently, there are not many left.

The Minutiae app is available for $14.99 on the Apple App Store.

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Image Manipulation and Social Media: Where Is the Line?

Image Manipulation and Social Media: Where Is the Line?

Image manipulation in various forms has been around from nearly the beginning of the medium itself, and the ethics of that process have been debated for nearly as long. Although this topic seems rather Sisyphean in nature, a conversation with an individual on Instagram inspired me to take a look at it from the perspective of social media in particular.

Entire books have been written about the history of image manipulation and the ethics surrounding that. A quick Google search results in hundreds of millions of hits on the topic. Needless to say, much has been said by many individuals over time about what is acceptable and what is not. And yet, this is a topic that keeps popping up again and again, especially as technology advances making it even easier to manipulate images and easier to share those images. 

Most genres generally have their own unwritten (or sometimes written) rules or standards regarding what is acceptable in terms of editing. We understand and accept that fine art photographs can have significant manipulation done (it even seems expected at times), while images for photojournalism should not have any. Product and fashion work are also genres that there is general acceptance for lots of retouching and manipulation. And yet, the debate is ever-evolving and the edges around genres can sometimes be a bit soft, making things even more complicated. Social media also seems to have shifted the conversation and where the line of acceptable editing is, especially within the past few years.

Most frequently, we see the discussion of image manipulation and the media (including social media) in the context of models being edited to look slimmer, have better skin, or look different in other ways to make models conform to socially constructed beauty standards. Within the past few years, we as a culture have come to more or less agree that editing a person to look significantly different than real life has created a negative situation and it is something that should not be done. But what about all the other genres and, in particular, what about when those other genres are posted on social media? Does that change things?

Manipulated Images on Instagram

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Image by Drew Mason | www.instagram.com/drewmason and www.instagram.com/themittenmutt

I follow an account on Instagram, @themittenmutt, who posted about some negative comments he received in response to one of his recent photos (seen above) and his photos in general. Drew Mason, the photographer behind the dog account, received some negative feedback from various individuals about his images, saying that they felt like Drew’s images were misinforming, misleading, and contributing to the “toxic fakeness of the Instagram world.” Without seeing the image first, you might anticipate some crazy edits. Drew does indeed edit his images significantly. But, those edits involve manipulations of colors, lighting, contrast, and other such basic things. These comments sparked a curiosity for me about where the line may be in terms of social media and image manipulation. In most other contexts, that amount of editing wouldn’t be questioned one bit, in my experience. So why is it such a big deal in the context of social media?

I chatted a little with Drew, and he also shared some thoughts on his Instagram stories, where he explained that he uses his editing to recreate the way that his mind interprets and remembers a moment. The way that he remembers a scene may be very different from the way that the camera captures it, however, which is where the editing comes into play. I think most of us have probably been there as well. We try to capture an epic sunset but the camera doesn’t do it justice. So what do we usually do? Enhance things in editing to make it feel and look more like the sunset that we remember. Editing to enhance an image and create (or recreate) a feeling in an image is not a new thing, or one that has been seen as unacceptable in the past, and yet it seems to be an issue in the realm of social media.

Art and Truth in Photographs

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Image by Drew Mason | www.instagram.com/drewmason and www.instagram.com/themittenmutt

I think this debate largely comes down to two broad questions that have plagued the medium of photography since the beginning: are photographs art and, maybe more importantly, are photographs truthful, faithful representations of a scene? These topics are intensely fascinating to me and could lead me down a serious rabbit hole. I’ll refrain (for this post), but let’s at least look at the surface level of those questions as it relates to photography and social media.

The first question, whether photography is art, has been a near-constant debate in the art world. As with anything, context is key. In the right context, photographs are absolutely art, at least in my opinion. If we accept that photographs are indeed an art form (at least in the right context), then that should leave them open to creative changes and manipulations, i.e. editing. The issue with social media is that the context of images can be fluid and ambiguous, as the app itself is used for a wide variety of purposes. Both news agencies and artists and everything in between use Instagram to share material. This conglomeration of different uses within the same space can create confusion in regards to context and can lead to individuals being on different pages of what the correct interpretation may be.

The second question, if photographs are truthful, is also a frequently debated topic. Some believe that a camera is documenting whatever scene it is pointed to, making photographs inherently truthful. It is seen as an unambiguous act of documentation. However, this is not truly the case. Jörg M. Colburg said it well in an article in Conscientious Photography Magazine:  

 If a camera is a little machine that faithfully records what is in front of it and that displays just that, then obviously it’s the photographer who screws up if there is a problem. Now, a camera is not at all just some little machine that does that. It never faithfully records what was in front of it, and the many steps that lie between the pressing of the shutter’s button and the display of the resulting image (in whatever form) make the connection between reality and picture very, very difficult.

Photographs don’t lie. To say a photograph lies is to believe that there can be such a thing as an objectively truthful photograph. There can never be. All photographs present a truth: their makers’. The issue is not whether or not that truth has any relation to the Truth. The issue is, instead, what photographs tell us about our own truths, about those beliefs that we take for so granted, that we stick to so obsessively, weighing what we see.

Even the act of composing an image requires singling out certain things and excluding others. It is impossible to completely remove ourselves from photographs because of this. As a result, as Colburg says, it is impossible to have an “objectively truthful photograph.” In light of that, if we take things to the extreme, even unedited snapshots posted on social media could be considered misleading since they are only representing their maker’s truth and nothing more.

As mentioned briefly above, cameras can also fail to document a scene as we see it. Colors could be drastically different than real life if your white balance is off. To me, correcting that is not causing issues with how truthful an image is and could, in fact, be making an image more truthful instead. Focal lengths can also drastically change the way a scene appears in an image. If you use a telephoto instead of a wide angle or normal lens, the perspective and magnification of elements in the scene are going to be vastly different. So, is it misleading to use anything other than a normal lens to take images for the sake of social media then? I doubt that anyone would say this is the case. 

Where Is the Line?

So, with all this other information in mind, let’s revisit the question at hand and the image that sparked it all. Drew was not manipulating a person (or dog) to look different than real life, so there is no risk of creating unrealistic beauty expectations. He wasn’t editing in landscape features that wouldn’t be found in that location, so there is no risk of tricking people to think that epic mountains are found in Michigan or anything along those lines. His edits adjusted colors and lighting, to, as he says, more accurately reflect how he remembers the scene. In fact, in the image in question (with the dog), things were set up with the final image already in mind, so all edits were to enhance the way he staged the scene. 

If we examine the context of his images, they are not intended to be news images or anything such as that. So in my opinion, they can be seen more on the art side of photography, which allows for creative interpretation and manipulation in editing. I do not see where a line was crossed, or how these images would mislead anyone. The photographs are perhaps idealized images of the scene, which you could argue contributes to the “fakeness of the Instagram world,” though I hardly think it’s enough to make them toxic or anything remotely so negative. Our feeds, in general, are idealized versions of life, for the most part, simply because of what we choose to share. In my view, the photographer isn’t even obligated to explain what edits were done. In my opinion, photographs that are personal, or are taken for the sake of creativity or art, are fair game for manipulation, and an explanation of what has been done shouldn’t be expected. 

And now, I pose the questions to you all: where is the line for image manipulation in regards to social media? Are only the most basic edits acceptable? Is any editing okay? And, is the photographer obligated to share what edits were done? Let me know in the comments!

Images used with permission of Drew Mason.

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Like, Comment, Follow: Thoughts on Social Media as a Photographer

Like, Comment, Follow: Thoughts on Social Media as a Photographer

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One of the most frequent questions I am asked is about social media likes and followers and how to ‘boost’ those numbers.

There are a few questions I will always ask:

1. Why? Simple first question. What is your goal? Why do you want more likes or followers? Is it for personal reasons (for example an ego boost or a feeling of validation) or is it about making a living (you are looking to sell your brand and need those numbers to maximize potential sales)?

2. What are you currently doing to work towards this goal? This could be a simple question such as, “how often are you on social media ?” because we all know Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc. are businesses and a business wants to make money. They need to see you as a bankable asset, and engagement by you equals return.

Also when you are online how are you interacting with others, are you just spamming on images, or are you making meaningful connections? Think about if you were to pass someone in the street and mutter “hi” (the equivalent of a like) or you were to stop and talk to them about their day or compliment them on an item of clothing they were wearing (the equivalent of a comment)? Which do you think would mean more to that other person and which could potentially lead to a deeper friendship?

3. Finally, depending on your goal, how are you managing your content, and is it “good enough” to reach your goal? Now ‘good enough’ is very subjective. However, I have seen people who have sent me images that would be categorized more as ‘snapshots’, with little consideration to composition or subject, and have asked me why they aren’t getting attention.

Now you need to remember you are in a sea of millions upon millions of images, so you need to be doing something to stand out — the image needs to grab you in some way. There does come a point when you have ‘loyal fans’ (which I will touch on later) when the support becomes more personal, but initially, looks do matter. It’s like that first date — you need to attract the opposite person.

Do ‘Likes’ Matter?

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We all want to be liked as individuals, going back to those childhood days of being in the playground and having that awkward feeling of trying to join a new group and make new friends, feeling that joy if you are accepted, or worse the disappointment to find that your friendship is not wanted. It can be a tough time and that feeling never really disappears.

We are social creatures. We want to mix and share our lives, our hobbies, and interests with others. We also put a lot of time into our art, so we want to know that people are liking what we are doing. Therefore, I understand completely why people want to see a high number of likes against their work, it brings a sense of achievement (but is that achievement of value? More on that later).

But the question needs to be, what does being ‘liked’ more offer to you as a photographer? Does it make you a better photographer if you have 500 likes on an image? Do you think, “Well, 500 people like this, therefore I am an amazing photographer”? Because to be brutally honest, it does not mean what you feel it may. Likes are not a resource you can use to measure quality.

Now if we focus for the rest of this article on Instagram, as this is the only platform I am active on, let’s discuss something that a lot of people forget when it comes to the number of likes an image gets, and that is reach.

Instagram has something called reach, which is the number of accounts that have seen your image. You have the functionality in Instagram to see what the reach of your posts are and if you look at this it is very obvious to see a correlation between the number of likes an image gets and the reach it hits.

Remember when I said Instagram is a business? This is exactly where this comes into play, because if your image is generating initial interest then Instagram is going to put it out there in front of a lot of people.

Let’s create a scenario where you have taken a photograph and you print it out. You then hang it in your hallway. Over the next two weeks you have 30 visitors (your reach) and from those visitors 26 said they liked the photograph. Now you take the same image and put it in the middle of a high street for 4 hours and over that time it is seen by 3,000 people. Statistically, there is much more chance of more people liking the image because more people have seen it.

For ease, let’s say that 1,000 people from the high street like the image. More likes. However another way to look at it is that from the 3,000 only 1,000 liked it (33%) however from the 30 that saw it in your hallway, 26 liked it (87%), so which is the most successful? It is the same image, yet the size of the audience has dictated the number of likes because of its reach.

My own images work exactly the same as this. I have images that have had a reach of over 18,000 accounts and received say 3,000 likes (what a talented fella), yet some images receive 500 likes but only reach just over 1500 accounts (having a bad day). But again, the ratio of likes to reach would say that actually the image with the lower number of likes is liked by more who saw it.

You also need to consider the ease with which people ‘like’ an image and the reason why they click that little heart. Maybe they just follow the photographer and want to support anything they produce, or maybe they are just trying to show Instagram they are engaging on the platform to help boost their own images and just ‘spam like’ anything posted on a hashtag over the past 20 minutes without even looking at the image.

Roll all of this together, reach and if a ‘like’ is genuine or not, and really think how much weight that number actually has.

Follow Me… PLEASE

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The flip side of likes is followers. Again it is another quantitative measure that people put a lot of focus on. Similar to likes, it can be seen as being popular. “400,000 people have chosen to follow me! They are all sitting, waiting for me to upload my next image, they idolize me… I am a genius.”

Well, hold that thought.

First of all, how many of those followers are genuine? How many are bots or people who made an account, followed a bunch of people, and then never returned to Instagram again? How many of those people are following you for a totally different reason to you being a photographer? Maybe they like you as an individual, maybe you have a YouTube channel, or you are a famous person and you drum up followers because of you, not your photography.

Also just because you have 400,000 followers doesn’t mean that every image you post will be seen by each and every one of those followers. If you head into your Instagram feed now and look within the ‘least interacted with’ section you will see a bunch of people who you follow but may not have seen their posts for months and there are even more than this within the account list of who you follow. The reason? Again, Instagram is a business and they will show you the content from the creators who you interact with most, also increasingly space is being taken up by advertising, promotions, etc. (got to keep the money coming in somehow) so that space is limited even more on your feed.

Now if you are a brand or selling a product, of course there are more benefits to having a large following. You could be seen as an ‘influencer’ (I hate that word) and you may get opportunities to try out products for reviews (usually biased in some way, or stated to be unbiased but then bias to keep the companies on board), and this, in turn, generates money or more companies to take interest and it could snowball.

Follower count can equate to positives. However, outside of the money side of things, how important is a follower count really?

When I first started on Instagram, I really wanted 1,000 followers. I have no idea why I chose that number — I just thought it sounded cool to be able to say 1,000 people follow me. Fast forward to when I hit 1,000 followers, and I remember waking up and seeing I had 1002 or 1003 or something like that and thought “YES!! I have 1000 followers… Ok, now what?” It was a totally empty celebration.

I hadn’t suddenly become a great photographer, the emails weren’t suddenly pouring in offering me sponsorships and book deals. It was a great eye-opener for me to see that actually what I had been chasing over those months was something that ultimately didn’t really matter if I thought long and hard about it. Actually, what had mattered over those months were the friendships I was making and seeing my work grow and my own style developing. This led me to realize two important things: the importance of loyal fans and that of value.

Loyal Fans

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I mentioned earlier the concept of loyal fans. These are followers you have who love your work, they like your style, your ethics, maybe they have spoken to you a few times and a connection has been built up, they want to see you do well. There is an article online about how in order to make enough money to survive within photography (or any art form), you just need 1,000 genuine fans — 1,000 people who will buy whatever you create because they are invested in you.

Loyal fans play a huge role in, say, a YouTuber’s Instagram account and there is a feeling that a large YouTuber could post a photograph on their feed of a dog turd on a pavement and it would generate thousands of likes and receive multiple comments of “wow this is great” or “deep photography man, really made me think about life”, and that is because they love that person for who they are. It will be those people who buy every photobook they release or watch every video on their channel, and that is the fan base or following that (from a money-generating point of view) you want.

However, what about from a personal point of view? Let’s take money out of the equation. I love an analogy, so imagine you had a dinner party (because I am old and I don’t hold raves anymore). Imagine you had a dinner party and it was open door, during this dinner party you had 500 random people show up and they came, ate your food, and left. They didn’t really speak to you or to each other and just came, took for themselves, and left.

Now imagine the next evening you had a dinner party and hand-selected 30 of your friends or people you had come to know and you all sat and ate and talked about your interests and what was going on in your life and then they all left. Now for me, that smaller dinner party where I was making connections with people would hold so much more value than the party where I had more people show up but fewer people take any interest. I see followers in the exact same way.

I have people on my Instagram I speak to almost daily, we talk about photography, life, movies, Netflix recommendations, music, and even use each other as a sounding board to bounce ideas off or get advice from. I would say this core group is my loyal fans (actually I would say they are my friends and 95% of them I have never met in person, yet I love having them in my life).

I don’t want this to come across as ungrateful, as I am grateful for the following I have and I am grateful that so many people have chosen to add me to their own following. However, I would say that when choosing who you personally follow, focus on the quality they will bring in return be it in terms of friendship, inspiration, motivation, support, etc. and try to mold your following to your own needs.

It is nice to have a large following, but just as in the case of likes, it can be an empty number and interaction levels have much more value.

Value

I mentioned earlier the value of likes (and I suppose followers too). I have a few photographers who follow my work who I aspire to be like and to reach their level is definitely an ambition of mine. If one of those people takes the time to like and comment on an image of mine I am genuinely humbled. High value.

Beyond that, I also hold value in a lot of the comments and likes I receive when you know they are coming from a good place. It can be tough without the relationship to know if it is a ‘spam like’ or a genuine one, but you quickly become accustomed to those other accounts who start to see past your images and see something in you and your body of work that is inspiring them. This then builds value.

Also, any comment that is beyond the usual ‘great shot’ or a smiling emoji is also valuable as someone has taken the time to stop their day and make that comment about how your image has made them feel. I receive direct messages, very supportive and encouraging direct messages, that hold value again in that someone has taken the time to send me those kind words. Those moments have so much power and carry so much more weight than any others on Instagram.

I would try and think more about the value of the likes, comments, and followers you have rather than the quantity. If you lose 100 followers who never interact with you and you have never seen their work either is that such a loss? Chances are they are only there for the wrong reasons.

A Few Quick Points

A couple of other quick thoughts regarding a few topics that always come up;

1. Follow / Unfollow. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that quantity outweighs quality and therefore are in it just for the numbers. Personally, I find that shallow and very unfulfilling but each to their own. To that end, there will be people who will follow you and then either unfollow you because you didn’t do the same or unfollow you as soon as you follow back. It is a side effect of the platform and for many it is frustrating but again think about the value that person was bringing to you anyway. Is it as big a loss as you think?

2. Why don’t you follow me back? I receive messages almost daily from people wanting to know why I won’t follow them back. Now first of all having my account and managing a different account, not to brag, but I receive hundreds of notifications an hour on Instagram and I have zero chance of checking through each and every one of them. Therefore I do not see every notification for every comment or every follow so I don’t always get a chance to check them out.

I have actually recently found accounts that have been following me for months and I have loved them and returned the follow. It can be tough to keep up. Another reason could simply be the type of photography you shoot is not for me, not that it is bad or whatever (I controversially believe there isn’t bad photography if an image is presented as it was meant to be by the photographer, just not to your taste photography). And in order to ensure I am seeing work from photographers who shoot what I am looking for, I don’t want to fill up my feed with other work. It 100% isn’t a personal thing, just a subjective art thing.

3. Should I buy followers and likes? Just no. Why? That is like entering a photography competition and winning because you are the only participant. As much as I don’t believe all likes are from genuine people saying ‘I love this,’ a majority of them will come from a good place, so earn that love and trust me it is much more satisfying.

Conclusion

If you made it this far I commend your stamina and I hope that this has given you some insight into my thoughts on the topic of likes, comments, and followers. If you are just an ordinary photographer picking up your camera and going out into the world to share your vision then focus on that, focus on the enjoyment of pressing that shutter and freezing time. Focus on coming home and uploading your latest work to your little corner of the internet where you have your own loyal fans who love to see what you have been shooting, no matter how big or small that audience is.

The numbers really don’t matter if what you are doing you are getting pleasure from. The best feeling I believe you can get is from sitting in front of that computer at the end of a shoot and being proud of the images you have taken.

In summary:

1. Don’t equate the number of likes to the quality of an image.

2. Don’t focus on having a large, faceless following (unless you are looking to grow your following for possible financial benefits).

3. Build a valuable community with people who respect and support you and want you to succeed.

4. Interact with others, don’t just spam that like button or drop generic emoji comments, and take the time to connect.

5. Finally, don’t put too much pressure on that side of photography, your enjoyment is far more important and the satisfaction with your images should always outweigh the numbers.


About the author: Lee Thirkellson is a photographer and writer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Thirkellson is the founder of The Northern Street Collective. You can find more of Thirkellson’s work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Stock photos licensed from Depositphotos

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