In late July, hobbyist photographer and self-proclaimed “sunrise hunter” Sam Binding conducted an experiment. After visiting Somerset Lavender Farm to catch the sun peeking over the purple blossoms, the 40-year-old from Bristol uploaded the results to both Instagram and Twitter. Two days later, he used the apps’ built-in analytics tools to assess the impact of his shots. On Instagram, a total of 5,595 people saw his post – just over half of his 11,000 followers. On Twitter, his post was seen by 5,611 people, despite the fact he has just 333 followers on the site.
This confirmed Binding’s hunch that although most people believe that Instagram is a place to share photos and Twitter is a place to share words, that may no longer be the case. When it launched in 2010, Instagram courted the artistic community, inviting respected designers to be among its initial users and naming its very first filter X-Pro II, after an analogue photo-developing technique. In her 2020 book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, technology reporter Sarah Frier documents how Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wanted Instagram to be an outlet for artists (in a high-school essay, Systrom wrote that he liked how photography could “inspire others to look at the world in a new way”).
But Facebook bought Instagram in 2012. Systrom departed as CEO in 2018. And three weeks before Binding uploaded his lavender pics, the new head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, posted a video to his personal social media accounts. “I want to start by saying we’re no longer a photo-sharing app.”
Click on Instagram today and you will still see plenty of photos, but you’ll also be confronted with a carousel of short, vertical videos (known as “Reels”) as well as the more-than-occasional ad. In his video, Mosseri explained that “the number one reason people say that they use Instagram in research is to be entertained” and the app was going to “lean into that trend” by experimenting with video. Citing TikTok and YouTube as competition, Mosseri said Instagram would “embrace video” and users could expect a number of changes in the coming months.
The move has the artistic community seeing Pantone 032. Though there’s no way of knowing how many artists, architects and photographers have left the app, many are at least threatening to. Liverpool photographer and musician Reuben Wu tweeted “Ok thx bye Instagram!” on hearing the news (at the time of writing, he and his 264,000 followers remain on the app). Sara Tasker, an Instagram and creative business coach and author of Hashtag Authentic: Finding Creativity and Building a Community on Instagram and Beyond, says her inbox was “immediately flooded” with creatives “terrified that this meant they would be left behind”. The 37-year-old says video is time-consuming, has a steeper learning curve and can be a challenge for those who are self-conscious in front of the camera.
“The idea that they have to dance for their audience – literally – just to make sales or have their art seen is a kick in the teeth to those who have been sharing and connecting on these platforms for years,” says Tasker, who has more than 220,000 followers on her @me_and_orla account.
Binding started sharing sunset photos on his account @sambinding around five years ago and he now sells pictures to those who message him on the site. But over the past year, Instagram has begun showing his posts to 30-50% fewer people and he’s consequently made fewer sales. (In November 2020, Instagram altered its layout to highlight Reels and its Shopping features.)
“I can see why everyone’s starting to panic about their accounts because you’re going from hitting 500 likes on a photo back down to 100,” Binding says. “I know a lot of photographers have taken breaks from using Instagram because they start thinking maybe their photos aren’t good enough.”
Artist and photographer Nick Waplington is also troubled by changes at Instagram, which he has used for 10 years. The 56-year-old has 18,000 followers on his @nickwaplington account, through which he regularly sells limited edition artworks and monographs. “I’m not going to start dancing around holding my photographs,” he says. “I’ll probably go back to using it as a personal account now.”
Like Binding, Waplington’s reach has recently decreased: “I used to put on 100-200 new followers every month and that’s ended,” he says. Also, like Binding, Waplington has been driven to experiment. He recently uploaded a photo of model Kendall Jenner that he lifted from the web. “It really went nuts. I got the most likes and the most reach that I’d ever had. They showed it to everyone.”
In 2020, the non-profit research organisation AlgorithmWatch conducted a similar experiment. In partnership with the European Data Journalism Network, it analysed 2,400 images and found that photos of women in underwear or bikinis were 54% more likely to appear on the Instagram news feed than other photos, while images of food and landscapes were 60% less likely to be shown. While the experiment was small, relying on the feeds of 26 volunteers, the researchers concluded that “refusing to show body parts dramatically curtails one’s audience” on Instagram. In a June 2021 blog post, Mosseri outlined how users can influence what they see by muting accounts or clicking “Not Interested” on particular posts.
Though Waplington isn’t going to delete the app, he finds the recent changes “demoralising”. “Do they really want someone like me to be posting pictures of celebrities downloaded from the internet to increase your reach instead of posting my art?” he says. A day after we speak in late July, he emails to say his latest post earned his “lowest ever reach and likes”.
Ironically, Mosseri started his announcement video by claiming that Instagram wants to empower creators to “make a living” on the site, but both Binding and Waplington have seen sales suffer. Perhaps this highlights the difference between “creators” and “creatives”. In April, writer and Washington University media professor Ian Bogostargued that “a creator is someone whose work is wholly circumscribed by a platform”. While creators make content that can only exist within a certain app, many creatives simply put their offline art online. To put it another way: Instagram’s creators can only exist on Instagram, Instagram’s creatives can go elsewhere.
“There seems to be a mass exodus to Twitter now,” Binding says. VSCO, a photo app reminiscent of early Instagram, is popular with Gen-Z and currently has around 40 million monthly users, meaning it’s well placed to attract Instagram migrants. Artists are also turning to social media sites such as Artfol, ArtStation and Bubblehouse, which are all specifically designed for creatives to showcase their work. This isn’t the first time Instagram has angered the artistic community – in 2019, American artist Betty Tompkins was temporarily blocked after she shared her explicit photorealist work Fuck Painting #1, leading hundreds of people and the galleries that host her work to complain to the site. (Instagram has a long-held reputation for censoring artistic nudity, which is ironic in light of AlgorithmWatch’s discovery of the bikini bias.)
Taaryn Brench is a 32-year-old illustrator and designer from Leeds who has recently turned to sites such as Designers of Colour to showcase her work. “In terms of getting your work seen on Instagram, it’s tanked a lot over the past couple of years. You hear people talking about fighting the algorithm but that’s a job in itself,” she says (she has around 3,000 followers on her account @taaryn_b). “I think we should as artists be looking elsewhere and not relying solely on Instagram.” She says people are moving back to their personal websites and blogs (Waplington resumed directly collecting fan and follower email addresses last year).
Still, Brench admits she feels “a bit chained” to Instagram and doesn’t want to completely quit the site because of the community there (she mentors young artists via the app). Waplington also values the community on the site. “I’ve been making art photography for a long time and you would go away for four or five years and exist in this vacuum while you made a new piece of work,” he says. “For a line of work where it’s very insular, suddenly you were able to talk to people on a daily basis.”
And yet, like many in the artistic community, Brench says Instagram has negatively affected her work – and her attitude to her work – over the years. “I drew some pictures of some cats and I’m not even a cat person whatsoever – I actually hate cats. But I posted it on Instagram and I knew it would do really well,” she says. The post did do well. “But then I thought, ‘That’s not me.’”
So, this time next year, will Instagram be solely a video and shopping app, full of dancing creators and celebrities flogging merchandise but devoid of artists and designers sharing their latest work? It’s likely that many artists will stay on the app and adapt – Binding, for one, says he doesn’t mind creating videos – and it’s possible that Instagram will change its stance. After all, Facebook has found, time and time again, that copying competitors isn’t a quick and easy path to success – last year, it shutdown it’s two-year-old TikTok clone Lasso, which never earned more than 80,000 daily active users on Android.
And, of course, video and art aren’t mutually exclusive – although cats may continue to reign supreme. At the moment, the most popular post tagged #artist on TikTok is a coloured pencil drawing of a kitten that has accumulated 14.5m likes.
Whatever happens next, it’s clear that Instagram isn’t the app it used to be. Instagram expert Tasker says it once nurtured creators with workshops, parties and even surprise gifts such as photobooks and calendars, which she says is no longer the case. Instagram employs people who curate content for its own official account so it arguably fosters talent in that way – its latest post highlights the work of trans activist and spoken word poet Kai-Isaiah Jamal.
In an emailed statement, a Facebook company spokesperson wrote: “We’re inspired by the millions of creatives using Instagram to express themselves, create businesses and communities every day. We began as a photo-sharing app and will always be a platform for visual storytelling, no matter its format.” They went on to say that Instagram users shape culture and the app is “constantly developing new formats and tools to help people express themselves”.
Tasker first found Instagram seven years ago when “lonely and lost” on maternity leave; she was delighted to be connected to others who “found beauty in the way the light shone on their kitchen table in the early dawn” and “spotted the same tangle of wildflowers in the pavement cracks that would catch my eye”. Now she fears Instagram execs are “sacrificing longevity and real human connection for happy shareholders and panicked, short-term gain”.
While she feels that creatives will remain on Instagram (“there isn’t anywhere else online right now that has the same range and depth of creatives in its daily active user base”), she misses the place it used to be. “Open the app now and you’re grabbed by flashy images, videos, dancing teenagers and curated performances tailored, algorithmically, to hotwire all of your brain’s most basic likes,” she says. “It’s entertaining, there’s no doubt, but it’s seldom mindful. I miss that morning routine of quiet, considered and consistent inspiration.”
Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.
The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.
Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.
Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.
The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.
The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.
The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.
Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.
A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.
The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.
Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.
The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.
“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.
Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.
“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.
However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.
Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.
But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.
While returning to the office is now possible for many, some workers might still want the option of flexible working some of the time. Here’s how to broach the subject.
This week marked the beginning of a phased and staggered return to workplaces for many employees in Ireland.
It essentially marked the first official green light for employers to ready their offices and start putting plans in place for their staff’s return.
However, HR body CIPD Ireland urged employers to be mindful of anxious workers as they face “another round of upheaval” with the return to offices.
So, while employers are finalising plans about how, where and when their teams will work, some employees may be wondering how to go about expressing their preference, worried that it’s not in line with what the company wants.
While there have been plenty of discussions and remote work advocates calling for leaders to be more flexible and recognise that the future of work will be hybrid, the reality for individual employees can feel very different.
While big-picture debates around the right to request remote work are happening, how do you ask for what you want in the here and now, when your boss is determined to have a full return to the office?
Explain your reasons
If remote or flexible working isn’t something your boss is already willing to give you, then you must treat it like a pay rise request.
Explain clearly and concisely the reasons why you want more flexibility, how it will benefit you and make you a more engaged, happier worker.
While family commitments might be an important factor, so too is work-life balance and getting rid of long commutes. And, while there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Covid-19 is still a very real concern, so don’t be afraid to express your reservations about this too.
Make a business case
When you ask for a pay increase, you provide proof of the value you have added to the company. Take the same approach here and explain to your boss how flexible working will actually be beneficial to them.
Some managers who resist remote working might still have an office-based mentality where presenteeism is key. But there are numerous studies that show that knowledge workers are more productive when working remotely.
And, when done as a purposeful business strategy, remote working can help teams prioritise work more clearly as well as allowing for more downtime and work-life balance.
Depending on your manager, your team and the work you do, it may not be feasible to ask to work from home five days a week.
It’s important that you are realistic about asking for what you want and also realistic about what you can deliver in return. Remote workers can be more productive but they can also be in danger of burning out so be thoughtful about what strategy will work best for both you and your manager.
Listen to their perspective
While conversations around remote working appear to be mostly positive, it can be a different situation behind the office doors.
Many managers and leaders are still hesitant about moving to a fully flexible working strategy and this can lead to workers feeling like they are not being listened to.
However, one of the best ways to combat that hesitancy from managers is to listen to their concerns and address them in a problem-solving manner.
Being able to alleviate some of your manager’s worries might make them more amenable to allowing for more flexibility.
Make expectations clear
If you do convince your boss to allow for a more flexible working plan than what they had originally considered, it’s important that both sides understand what is expected.
Without clearly defining the outcomes of the new set-up, misunderstandings can lead to disappointments and feelings of mistrust in the idea of flexible working.