Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Instagram Lie - Cheaters, Fakers & Thieves

Shadow Catcher - Stallion Springs, California
I've been on Instagram since last May. I didn't mention it on the Roesch Photography Blog because it was more-or-less an experiment on whether or not I really want to be on Instagram. My profile is @utahfamilyadventures if you want to look me up.

People have been telling me for awhile now that I should be on Instagram. "You're a photographer, after all, and Instagram is all about pictures," I would hear. I didn't understand hashtags and how to use them, but I signed up and gave it a try anyway.

It's a happy feeling when you get a "heart" or comment or new follower. Everyone wants recognition and appreciation and validation, and Instagram offers that in droves. It can be addicting, like a druggy waiting for the next hit--you can get glued to your phone waiting for the next attention. Maybe they should rename it "Instacrack" instead of Instagram.

When a favorite image doesn't get the attention that you think it deserves, you have self-doubt or anger. You see tons of tremendous work by other photographers who are clearly better than you, and you wonder if you'll ever be that talented. And you can't understand how all of these talentless snapshooters have so many followers, especially compared to how few you have. Instagram is good at playing on your emotions.

Something that I have learned is that Instagram is a lie, with an abundance of cheaters, fakers and thieves. It's not at all what it seems. And it's driven by money, or, at least, the pursuit of it.
Farm Fresh Vegetables - South Weber, Utah
A photograph like this could be a paid advertisement (but in this case is not).
Instagram won't pay you no matter how many hearts or followers you get, but there are tons of businesses that will. I've heard that with as few as 1,000 followers, people have been contacted by companies to do a little careful product placement, with some compensation, of course. If you have tens of thousands of followers this can be a lucrative business, not just small kickbacks.

To put this another way, Instagram is full of subtle advertisements. You don't even realize it, and it's actually against the rules. But for companies, this is an effective use of the advertisement budget. You see these successful Instagrammers using this or wearing that or drinking refreshing stuff, and it looks so cool, and the next thing you know you are buying it.

And at first this doesn't seem like so much of a bad thing. Why shouldn't someone make some money off of their photographs? But the manner in which many people get so many darn followers is dishonest.

If you've been on Instagram, there is no doubt that you've been contacted to get thousands of likes, comments and followers for a fee. You can buy your way to fame. It's pushed on you, in fact.
Fame - Mojave, California
Something someone realized awhile ago is that if you "heart" someone's picture, there is a good chance that they will return the favor. If you comment on someone's picture, you have a good chance of getting a comment on one of yours. And if you follow someone, they'll likely follow you back. Do all three and it's almost guaranteed that the favor will be returned. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. You were nice to me and so I'll be nice to you. And we do this because it feels good to be liked and appreciated.

What people have done is automate this with software. An app will heart, comment and/or follow others on your behalf, for a nominal fee, of course. To the other person it looks like it was you who did it, but it was a computer. You rake in the followers. And if the person doesn't follow you back, in a day or two the software will unfollow that person automatically. It's all artificial, but the other person doesn't know it.

If someone comments with only an emoji, you can bet it wasn't really that person that commented. If one person sporadically "hearts" random pictures of yours, it's probably not really them. If someone follows you, and then a day or two later unfollows you, it was almost certainly a paid service that did it.

Funny story, there is a washed up "B" actor (who was once in a soap opera and hasn't acted in anything significant in nearly two decades) who is constantly following and unfollowing me. I guarantee that he has never personally seen a single photograph of mine, he's just buying followers.

Worse than that are the people who steal your pictures and claim them as their own. It happens far too much on Instagram and there is very little that you can do about it. In fact, odds are you don't even know about it. You may have already had some of your images stolen and you are completely unaware.

There is a more subtle way that people are stealing photographs on Instagram. They make a sharing page where they post other people's pictures, and give them full credit. The photographer might even appreciate it, thinking that they are getting exposure (you will in reality get very little, if anything, in return). But whoever is doing the page is reaping the benefits. Typically they are advertising something for someone--you might be completely unaware that they are advertising anything--and they are using your pictures to do it. In my opinion this is theft. They are using your pictures for their own gain.

With all of that said, and all of the negativity that goes along with an Instagram account, it is a fun way to share your photography with the world. It's pretty darn amazing that in an instant people (mostly strangers) around the country and globe are admiring your work. This wasn't possible a decade ago. It's just too bad that Instagram doesn't do more to clean it up. They really need to get their app together.

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