Friday, April 17, 2015

Rantstagram? Instarant? Anyway, I Have Some Thoughts

I've been on Instagram for three weeks now, and it's brought me a lot of delight so far. I love posting snippets of my life and getting glimpses into other people's travels, lunches, and lipstick hauls. I also know that not everyone takes the same approach to Instagram that I do. Some people use it primarily to sell a product or promote a business, which is fine by me: I wasn't surprised to discover that Instagram was as commercialized as any other social-media site. What did surprise me, though, was the very hazy line between personal and professional accounts--but no, "professional" isn't the right word. I'm talking about this sort of thing:


All right, we can agree that this is probably a bot. But what about the person, or entity, leaving this comment on multiple people's accounts?


Surely just another spambot, right? No, actually. Further investigation revealed that the account belonged to a real person who had fallen for someone else's scheme--that person being the user @CLICK_HERE_FOR_386_FOLLOWS. @allachka999 had bought the story that if she spammed other people's accounts with a link to @CLICK_HERE_FOR_386_FOLLOWS, she would--you guessed it--acquire 386 new followers. Verdict: real person acting as mouthpiece for probable bot, and donning a bot costume in the process.

But what about the people who alternate inspirational quotes with plugs for pyramid-scheme mascara? What about the users who bombard others with "follow for follow" or "tags for likes" requests?



There are so many subtle gradations between "unequivocally a person" and "unequivocally a bot" that it can be hard to tell where sentience ends and bothood begins. At what point does a friendly social-media site become a William Gibson-esque dystopia? At what point does an individual become a content aggregator? And, you might well ask, at what point does healthy skepticism become wild-eyed paranoia?

I began mulling over these questions yesterday, when a sketchy-looking account commented on a selfie I'd posted, and I surprised myself by telling off said commenter:


Yes, I could easily have ignored this comment, but I felt simultaneously unnerved and violated. Unnerved because I didn't know whether the person who left the comment was a person at all; violated because this person (or algorithm) was using a photo of my face as a platform for self-promotion. Presumably, I was supposed to be so flattered by the lipstick compliment (NARS Angela, tyvm) that I would click on the mystery account and sign up for the service that she/it/whatever was offering. Gross.

But curiosity won over, and I actually did investigate the account, which represented a website that promoted bloggers somehow. This offended me even more. Did I really come off as the sort of person who would sign up for that service? Well, maybe, much as I hated to admit it. I had a blog, and I used my Instagram in part to draw attention to my blog. I tagged my makeup posts with #bbloggers and #nars and #pinklipstick. On the person-bot spectrum, I was far closer to "person," but hell if I didn't have bot inclinations. It was a sobering discovery.

Sobering, too, to reflect that the thrill I felt on gaining a new follower wasn't far removed from the impulse to spam other accounts with "f4f??" comments. (By the way, have these people never seen personal ads in which "f4f" means something very different?) When I first joined Instagram, I was appalled at how many users were willing to make themselves look desperate for the sake of collecting followers. I understood why a monetized account would need followers, but why, I wondered, should a normal lipstick-wearing latte-photographing civilian beg for likes and follows? Why choose to resemble a spambot so closely? Now, though, I see that these questions were a little disingenuous. I know perfectly well why people want thousands of followers: because, as Matthew Arnold wrote back in 1852, "we mortal millions live alone." Chalk it up to the agony of subjectivity, the hunger for connection. Yes, I am popular! Yes, people like my selfies! Ten more followers and I can forget about being teased in eighth grade! YES!!! Ironically, it's the desire to feel more human that leads us to act like bots.


That said, don't use my personal account as a billboard. Seriously.

25 comments:

  1. It feels like an intrusion, doesn't it? I mean, even I rarely promote my blog on my own Instagram myself, and here's this stranger spamming other strangers, including me! Similarly, I don't like it when a random person is obviously on a commenting spree and comments on posts without reading them or adding anything insightful or even just genuine to the comments. I sometimes don't approve the comments in those instances.

    I'm glad you told that person/bot off, lol.

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    1. I almost never get spam comments (or even self-promoting comments) on this blog, which is why I was so surprised to get them on Instagram. I always roll my eyes when I see someone leave the same two-word comment on multiple blogs or websites or Instagram accounts--it's such a transparent ploy.

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  2. I always delete promotional comments on my Instagram (or blog when I updated). I highly suggest deleting - it's very satisfying :)

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    1. I second Emi. I've been spammed more on the blog recently, and since all of my comments are moderated, I think - 'Nice try - but you're wasting your time', and hit delete. But I do see your point; I do use my Instagram to promote my blog, but I don't want to become desperate for followers and likes. It's quite a fine line between sharing your personal life, and marketing your 'brand', or whatever.

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    2. I loathe the very concept of "personal branding," but I often wonder if having a beauty blog means I am in fact constructing a personal brand despite myself. I have a horror of "selling out" and beginning to speak for brands instead of for myself--but again, if I mention a brand on social media, am I not selling out to that brand at least a little? It's such a minefield.

      I actually wasn't aware I could delete comments on Instagram! Good to know. Blocking obvious spam or self-promotional accounts is also very satisfying.

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  3. My favorite are the bloggers who follow you, comment on/like one post, and then once you follow them back, unfollow you. I don't know if it's because they don't want to have to scroll through so many people on their feed or if they think they look cooler by having more followers than the number they follow. These fit into the "person" category, I guess, but the it's "obnoxious person" one.

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    1. Haha, "obnoxious person" is a category I failed to mention! I've never encountered any serial (un)followers, though I confess I've followed and then unfollowed a couple of accounts because it turned out I didn't love their content. But I don't think any of them had followed me back, and they were bigger accounts whose owners probably wouldn't notice the loss of a single follower. The etiquette is so complicated!

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    2. I don't think it's wrong to unfollow in general, and I've definitely done it, like with people who only post giveaway entries, etc. But these obnoxious people are clearly just trying to build up their numbers. It's usually people in the medium-big blog range. It seems to be a thing.

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  4. Next time just block the account and report it to Instagram. Instagram has gotten better about this (although I did lose over 1600 spam followers in the "Instagram Rapture" ;p).
    And I also think f4f pressure can come from your own SNS acquaintance, too. Just like IRL friendships, we feel obligated to certain extent, which I think is why I have to be truer to decide who to follow and what to like. That's just me. ;)

    BTW, I've been enjoying your pictures of beautifully bloomed spring flowers. More, please. :)

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    1. I heard about the Instagram Rapture! I've blocked all the followers that I've suspected of being spammers or other unsavory types (even though that reduced my already paltry follower count), but I didn't know that reporting was an option unless they were posting porn or something. I'll keep that in mind! As for the pressure to follow back, I think that's inevitable--I was talking more about the people who beg hundreds of total strangers to follow them, which is really bizarre to me.

      Glad you're liking my flower photos! More to come, I'm sure. :D

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  5. Instagram is somewhere between blogs and YouTube when it comes to commenting. Not as obnoxious as YT but definitely worse than blog comments. I always make sure to block/report the bots and delete the f4f type things. I feel the same way about bloggers leaving their blog links in the comment section of other people's posts. Why they think that their public profiles and articulate comments aren't sufficient is beyond me.

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    1. At least YouTube commenters can be hilarious in their stupidity! I don't watch beauty channels or read the comments there, though, so I'm not sure what they're like--I wouldn't be surprised if there were some people promoting their own channels on bigger accounts.

      I feel the same way you do about people who leave their blog links everywhere. If you're commenting with your blog account, there will be a link to your profile IN YOUR COMMENT, so adding another link just makes you look pathetic. These days, reading the comment sections of big sites like Into the Gloss means wading through dozens of "love this post! [link to my own blog]" comments. It's depressing.

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  6. It is definitely an intrusion. I think it should go without saying that if you tag your posts you're looking for other makeup lovers/beauty bloggers to connect with, not spambots. Sure, we're all looking for more followers and readers - but at the end of the day I think most people want legitimate followers and readers. Anyone can buy Instagram followers, after all. Not everyone can earn them.

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    1. I agree completely, and I feel lucky that smart people read my blog and leave comments that actually engage with my posts. As an introvert, I value a small but thoughtful readership for the same reason that I value a small circle of friends. I do understand why some people want a huge readership or a huge social circle, but that's just not for me.

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  7. One of these "skinny tea" promotion accounts started following me... man, was I pissed about that. Do I look that stupid?

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    1. I got followed by an account that promoted "skinny wraps"--like, pieces of fabric you wrap around your body to "melt off fat" or something (I was afraid to click the link). The person behind it seemed to be an actual human being, so I decided not to block her, and she eventually stopped following me--I guess my frequent consumption of cake and ice cream made me seem less like a potential customer. But it was weird. Was she using Instagram as an individual, or as a mouthpiece for the company for which she was selling these wraps, or what? If another Instagram user has trouble figuring out whether you're a person or a bot, something is horribly wrong.

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  8. I almost always delete those comments. I have no patience for it.

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    1. I see that kind of comment more often on bigger accounts than I do on mine, so I wasn't even expecting to get one! I was sort of worried that the person behind the comment would call me a bitch or something, but of course there was no response. I assume they had another 5938765 accounts to comment on that day...

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  9. I don't attract a lot of followers full stop, spammers or not. When they do visit and comment, they get blocked.

    I know one person who so obviously bought their followers after running a comp to gain more and not being satisfied with the progress. Sure, brands want to work with people who have big followings but they're not stupid -- after clicking through a few of your followers it becomes pretty obvious!

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    1. My boyfriend actually knows someone who sold himself as a Facebook follower a few years ago! I wonder how much money he earned--I'm at the point where that sounds kind of tempting...

      I'm really dismayed at the state of mainstream style/beauty blogging these days. People begin blogging with the idea that they can monetize quickly and blog full-time, which means partnering with brands, which means acquiring thousands of followers so that they look attractive to brands. The whole thing just feels gross to me, and I'm glad Instagram has cracked down on buying followers.

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  10. There is something particularly insulting about an account using a compliment to spam you. It's just so disingenuous, I almost prefer the straight up spam comments. I just want to share pictures and look at pictures. It's soothing, right up until someone spams my account.

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    1. I know! It's the disingenuousness that pisses me off. I really don't give a shit that you took three extra seconds to compliment me on my lip color, sir or madam.

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  11. F4F, bots, spammers they are all the same to me: scourge of the interwebz. DIE BASTARD DIEEEE!

    More interesting to me is the idea of ourselves as a brand and the funny vehicles we use to promote ourselves. I think of it like this: my main thing is the blog and it IS a reflection of my personal being and by extension it is a representation of my brand. The word "brand" for me is just shorthand for an external representation of what image I want to portray. It feels commercial (or even a little fake), but nevertheless, it is a bit of me. Wherever else I go (instagram, twitter, commenting on other blogs or other people's IG pics), I inject a piece of me there and therefore promote myself (and again, my brand).

    It would be a very quiet place in my head if I had zero commenters and Twitter & IG followers. I would be a little dismayed that my "brand" would have so little appeal to actually repel people. :D

    I try not to dwell too much on this whole thing because even though my brand is me, I know it is highly curated to only reflect a very small part.

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    1. DIEEEEE!!!11!!1

      I have a lot of thoughts about personal branding, too. It's hard to escape if you're at all involved in social media or blogging, even if you're not trying to monetize anything about yourself. In the '90s, the personal was political; now the personal is professional. It's not necessarily the practice of creating a persona that I object to, but the use of the word "brand" to describe that persona--even if that is the most accurate word, and even if I'm putting only a small part of my genuine self into my brand. But you're right that we're all searching for validation of our brands in some way. I blog to amuse myself, but I also blog for others, and it would be depressing to feel like I was shouting into a void. (Shouting about lipstick, no less.) I chose to write about makeup because I loved it, but also because it wasn't a hyper-specialized subject that only a few people cared about. So I'd be disingenuous if I claimed I wasn't trying to sell my blog or persona or brand every time I posted on Instagram. Of course I am! But I'm not 100% comfortable with it, and sometimes I just want to drop off the grid and live on a mountain and wear my lipstick for the raccoons and bears alone.

      I'm sure I've mentioned this documentary before, but have you seen The Century of the Self? It's an interesting take on how psychoanalysis combined with capitalism to produce the modern advertising landscape.

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  12. I ended up following this blog based on this hilarious post. Thank you, just thank you. I blog too and am really new to it. While I work hard to try and draw in readers, (because who wants to pretty up some online real estate and record their thoughts with no one as witness...) I always wonder to myself if I'm being obnoxious about it. Also, isn't it funny that "shouting into the abyss about lipstick" could present such moral quandaries? Am I a brand? What do I represent? Am I selling my image, my words, or a product?

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