Nigel Atherton argues that the ever-declining user experience of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram will be the death of them. Or at least it should be. 

Like most other people in the world photographers’ lives have been transformed by social media. It’s how many of us meet, socialise, share our work and market ourselves. But there is growing dissatisfaction with the main platforms and the way they behave, and people are leaving them in droves. I was never a fan of Twitter or Elon Musk so I take particular delight in watching the slow, drawn-out death of X, but I’m more disappointed by what has happened to Meta’s platforms, Facebook and Instagram, which I had always regarded as the most photographer friendly. 

Facebook is home to hundreds of special interest communities. There are groups for every niche within photography. The trouble is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to see any of their posts, or those from your actual friends, among the ads and spam. Every time I log on (which is less frequent than it used to be since I deleted the Facebook app from all my mobile devices) I see another goodbye message from one of my friends.

Some groups are finding alternative platforms. The Urban Photographers Club upped sticks and moved their entire operations to Discord, leaving only a redirection message on Facebook. One of the main reasons was that members just weren’t seeing their posts among the ads. (Of course, Facebook won’t even show a group’s posts to most of its members unless they pay for the privilege).   

The ads themselves are also a problem.

I recently lodged a complaint with Facebook about being served those fake news stories where Martin Lewis is allegedly recommending a cryptocurrency trading site on daytime TV. Thousands have been conned out of their savings by these ads, yet despite the fact they are clearly fraudulent, and Martin Lewis has even taken Meta to court over it (and won), Facebook replied to say the ads did not breach their terms and conditions. Seeing as Facebook clearly has no interest in truth or honesty, look out for our forthcoming post reporting on the Pope’s recent statement that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to AP will go to hell. 

Meanwhile, over on the other Meta platform things aren’t much better. Instagram used to be the best platform to enjoy great photography. Then they tried to turn it into a video site to compete with TikTok. And now, in addition to the spammy ads that you also get on Facebook there is a new threat to Instagram’s photography community:

AI generated images that are not labelled as such.  

I often enjoy a morning Insta-scroll with my first cup of tea, but this morning I gave up after the seventh time of stopping to admire a beautiful photo or amazing location only to discover on closer inspection it was AI. If people are going to create AI ‘art’ (and the genie is out of the bottle now so there isn’t much we can do about that) then at least it needs to be labelled as such so it’s clear that it isn’t real, because unless you know the tell-tale clues that give it away it can be difficult to tell.

Sometimes there’s a #ai hashtag hidden among a dozen others, but not always. Identification should be mandatory. I’ve heard that Instagram themselves have started to add a ‘Made with AI’ label to images, as well as providing a toggle for users to declare that information in their post, though I have yet to see it in my own feed. But I think they should go further and add an AI toggle switch in Instagram’s settings so users can choose whether or not they want to their feed to be swamped with AI images in the first place.  

Ultimately the owners of these platforms have no interest in truth or honesty, only in maximising engagement and mining your data in order to make ever more money. They will only act if they sense an existential threat to their business, so voting with our feet is the best way to force them to clean up their act. If they don’t, they will go the way of MySpace. Remember them? 

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Amateur Photographer magazine or Kelsey Media Limited. If you have an opinion you’d like to share on this topic, or any other photography-related subject, email: 

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