The Curious History of an Instagram Photo

Strange things happen in our lives all the time that we can't quite quantify or explain. That post from a few years ago that went viral - that's one of those events. When someone you've not spoken to in years suddenly pops into your head minutes before they send you a text - that's one of those events. And recently, Instagram's thrown one up of those events.

The story starts a long time ago. 179 weeks ago from right now Connie and I were packed and getting ready to leave our flat in Aberdeen. We were heading to Toronto via London for a Christmas break home in Canada and I posted a photograph of our bed room with a scattering of cases, jackets, jumpers and other stuff, with the caption of "The Problem with #travelling is". The point was that we'd been packing for days (actually, Connie had been packing for days) and the photo, taken I assume just before we left very early that morning, was an offhand Instagram photo.

It has sat untouched for years. Literally years - 179 weeks is 3 and a half years ago. That photo, like most from my earlier Instagram life, is pointless and throw-away and, to be honest, I'd forgotten all about it. Here it is. 

Then, in March, out of the blue someone liked it. 

And then a few others liked it. Likes started to creep in from all over, randomly liking a photo that in all honesty has nothing to like about it - it's a shit photo. One of the worst, taken in low light on a shitty iPhone camera without a flash, of absolutely nothing. Nothing of note, worthy or interest. Yet, somehow, a range of folk really seem to like it. They are seeking it out, finding it and liking it.

And then just this past week, three different accounts commented on it with a simple "Awesome :-)". The comment is obviously a lie - it's neither awesome or colon hyphen closed parenthesis. What is happening?

Well, the clue is in my original caption - that "#travelling" part is probably the problem. Clicking on the hashtag brings up a total off 5,39,946 other photos on Instagram marked with that hashtag. It's probably one of the most tagged tags, I reckon, though I have no idea. What that means is that the only way to find my photo makes it one in five million that someone would find it. From years ago. Also, notice that freedom_roamingwalkabout_time and freedom_sighting all have the same profile photo... 

Curious, isn't it? It is also not the only photo that is getting attention like this. 175 weeks ago I posted a photo of a Wikipedia page featuring a list of persons with Lenny Henry noted as a comedian with [Citation Needed] marked by his name. I have no idea what the list is of anymore, but the humour of a comedian having his profession marked with Citation Needed tickled me. I tagged it with "#comedian" and #"wikipedia" and that has resulted in a raft of likes and recent comments.

To figure out what is going on, I decided to do a reverse Google Image search of the photos to see what came up, in case somewhere was linking to them. Nothing came up for both pictures.

So what is going on? No idea. Just one of those events, I guess.

Clickbait

or Four Reasons Why Mark Doesn't Understand Click Bait. Number Three Will Shock You!

I think my new favourite site on the internet is Clickhole, the Onion's satire of clickbait sites. Clickbait isn't something new, per se, but in recent years it's replaced spam as one of the worst things about day to day internetting for loads of reasons, the biggest being that it just no matter how hard you try it still permeates through the internet seeping like sewage into every nook and cranny there is, toxifying everything else and making it stink like shite.

Clickbait is stuff that compels you to click on the articles, which normally have very little substance, via sensationalist headlines designed specifically to be shareable and grab your attention so you click out of curiosity, almost like internet rubbernecking. They're normally either articles based around images, gifs or just Youtube videos that have either been trending on Twitter for a while, but mostly they almost all without fail come from Reddit. 

Reddit, of course, prides itself on being the "front page of the internet" and despite disliking it's design I do like some of the features of Reddit (though I am not a Redditor), the best being the impressive Ask Me Anything features that get famous or interesting people (from indie-electronic artist Tycho to the President of the United States of America) to field questions asked by the community - the AMA features are so good (and that Reddit knows it) there's even an AMA app now that siphons them off into a better layout.

Reddit, however, isn't the problem. The problem comes when sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and others build an article around them and then give it a headline that grabs your attention. Clickbait devalues a lot of good journalism that appears online because Facebook and Twitter make it difficult to separate the links that are worth your time and those that aren't. Facebook even recognises this, and is making technical changes to try and rank clickbait lower than articles that aren't to readdress the balance. If Facebook, who are notorious at making your feed work to their benefit are making changes you know you're doing something... well, not wrong per se, but certainly not great.

You have to appreciate that the internet is the ultimate democracy to an extent, because clickbait only exists because people do click on them. Buzzfeed makes a fortune from adverts, clicks and shares because people do click, share and see the adverts. It's not a surprise that the sites have appeared either, because the share-ability of things is pretty much a currency online these days. Widgets and comment systems are bought and paid for to create easy sharing of articles - even this very blog has sharing functions built in because, like I found last year, articles that go "viral" are exciting and fun, and can make people money (I didn't make any money, but I could have done so, if I had had adverts back then). 

The sites that do make clickbait aren't the problem. The problem, in my mind, is the system of sharing things online. In the "olden days" you had to email someone an article that you wanted to read, which took time and wasn't instant. Not everyone had email on their phones, and then your phone didn't load the page properly anyway, so it had to be on a computer. That meant that your time to peruse these things was limited. The amount of noise that Facebook throws at me these days is quite simply astonishing and the unfiltered news feed of Twitter is magnificent in comparison. The funny thing is that Twitter are getting rid of that in a terrible move (according to sources) which will mean Twitter will become just as bad as Facebook, at the same time as Facebook starts to pull back on the curated system that ends up dropping random shite into my feed that I don't want to see.

There is an issue too with satire online - I have noticed that Facebook has started to tag Clickhole and The Onion articles with a wee "Satire" badge presumably to stop people thinking that articles on there are real. The problem with that is it ruins the power of the site; Clickhole works because it's able to parody something that is almost beyond parody. If it pitches the articles so well that you can't tell the difference, then that surely that is the point they're trying to make. 

The problem really lies with the users and readers. The Share button is so abused it has lost all meaning, just like the Like button. It's ubiquitous nature has devalued it so much that I am blind now to the clickbait articles. I won't read Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Zergnet or anything else like that at the moment, even when Buzzfeed wants to be a legit news site. Instead I like to read Twitter and bank on the folk that I like sharing something worthwhile.

And if you don't realise what clickbait is you're probably part of the problem. :)

Internet Identity

In the coming month, sooner or later, I will become a father, and from there on in all my responsibilities will have changed. I will have people chipping in their ideas and thoughts on how to raise my child, and I will listen to them, take their suggestions on board, and discard them with abandon. I'll say "I agree" and "I don't agree" to things people will suggest each day, more than likely, and to be honest, that's all right. Children seem to be the one thing that everyone, educated/experienced or not, has an opinion on, and I'm never going to be able to say that my ideas are "right" - I just need to try and do the best I can, and the best Connie and I can.

There is one thing you're never going to see though; a photo of my child on this blog.

That'll surprise you if you follow the upteen photos of my dog, Frank, on Instagram, for he is a minor celebrity. In addition, once your Facebook friends reach a certain averaged age, photos of their kids are almost all that appears on your Facebook feed.

However, Connie and I are united on one thing in this respect - no one, not us and not our family, will be posting photos of our child on the internet.

Why, you might ask? Well, it's about responsibility. Photos of me as a baby are in a drawer at my mum and dads and safely there, not owned by a mega corporation that pays no tax where I am their product. I won't be plastering a person, a human with an identity, online without their consent, because once it's online it's there forever, no matter how much you pretend it isn't. That's something I've came to know well and understand the implications of.

This is going to be hard, though - I mean, it's going to be the best thing Connie and I will have ever done, becoming parents, so surely we'd want to let everyone know that was the case? But it links into what I saying previously about things "needing" to be recorded - someone people will push for a photo to be posted. And yes, there might be one announcing the arrival (and even that one won't be an identifying photo), but after that, it'll be a black out.

Unorthodox maybe and certainly not going to be make family members very happy who will also want to show off the new arrival, we instead suggest that they should privately share photos on sites that the photographer retains the ownership of the photo (like Flickr or 500px). We will sill share photos to family and close friends via those controlled means, but until we are happy with the way the photos will be used, our child won't be online in that way.

If you think about it, it is all to do with ownership. We own Frank, despite him being an important member of the family, and he's just something that we bought. He doesn't have a personality that will, in the future, want to become it's own identity. He's always going to be a dog, and be unwaveringly and completely in bonded to Connie, me and our child, no matter what. He's just too stupid to know any different (that, my friends, is why dogs are so so great, by the way).

Our child, on the other hand, is a mini me, a mini-Connie... a mini-you. They are going to grow up the same as us, worried about everything and confused about the world, striving to find themselves, discover the world and become something that is unique, and I don't like the idea of having put another level of worry on their minds, that there is baby photos out there that are owned by a corporation. I feel that it is a matter of respect. I worry that people who post photos online of their kids at any age, but especially when they are very young, forget that they aren't the latest Guardian post or Buzzfeed article to be Shared, Liked and Forgotten - they are a real person

However, this isn't a dig at people who do post photos of their kids online, I am not that sancitmonius. You can do whatever you want and whatever you like with your family, I am just explaining my thoughts about the whole thing. Here's a final thought if you're still on the fence. Do you have any idea how far photos online go? No? Well, here's a thing - if you think your photos stop at the walls of Facebook, you're wrong. They can end up anywhere, which means that anyone can look at them. Which means you have to assume that the worst people are seeing them.

And yeah, that's not something I want.