22 Feb 2024

Ten Insta-Commandments

Are you a narcissist or a communicator? Do you think there’s nothing better than posting images of yourself and the minutiae of your everyday life? Or are you more interested in finding like-minded people, making creative contacts, growing your business or communicating about everyday gripes and triumphs with a small group of loyal friends?

Instagram, and other photo-sharing apps, have so much positive potential. But if we are not careful, they can become a hellscape of self-promotion, stalking, trolling, and over-tagging.  We have taken a look at behaviour on photo-sharing apps and recommend the following:

1.  Do not steal other people’s images

There is certainly a wealth of imagery available on Instagram and other sites, but they are not the equivalent of a stock image library to be pilfered at will. You may even find yourself in breach of copyright. So, before you proceed to share other people’s images seek permission. If permission is granted, do not then proceed to doctor and distort the image. Once it is posted, you must tag both the photographer and the image owner (if they are not one and the same) in the photo and in the post. If you come across one of your own photographs that has been used, without credit, by another poster, direct message them and politely remind them that it is your property. and you would like it removed.

2. Eschew negative comments

Don’t fall into the trap of hiding behind your screen and believing that, in the online world, disinhibition, cruelty and abuse are tolerated. Try and apply real life rules to online etiquette; if you don’t like something somebody is doing, ignore it and move on (unless it’s offensive or criminal). There is no necessity to climb on your soapbox and denounce or criticise other people’s photos. Use the well-rehearsed etiquette rule: if you can’t find anything pleasant to say, then say nothing at all.

3.  Don’t make a hash of hashtags

Clearly, hashtags play a vital role in the whole social media phenomenon. Adding a hashtag is a way of connecting with other people and starting a conversation. But there are limits: don’t make a hashtag out of every word in the post or add a daunting list of hashtags to the post. In most cases, most of these hashtags will be irrelevant, and they just look like a needy cry for attention. If you feel compelled to use more than a handful of hashtags, try adding them to the comments section, which will avoid making you look like a spammer.

4. Stay engaged

If someone comments on your post (unless it is a trolling diatribe), don’t ignore them. That is the equivalent in real life, to implacably refusing to answer strings of texts and emails and ignoring all your friends’ pleas to call back. It is common courtesy to respond to comments – it’s what keeps the wheels of social media turning.

5.  Don’t spam

We all know social media accounts such as Instagram are an excellent way of building a following for your business and attracting potential clients and customers who are on exactly the right wavelength. But crude spamming – eg adding promotional remarks to comments (‘If you ever need website design services, I’m happy to assist’) is a crude hard sell in a totally inappropriate context and deserves to be ignored (and blocked).

6.  Don’t indulge your obsessions

This is easily said, but often hard to implement. New parents, for example, are often famously incapable of resisting the urge to post several photos a day of the miraculous progress of their baby. Of course, for everyone else, these are mundane and familiar stages in a child’s development, and no matter how cute and endearing they find the baby, they will still inevitably find the deluge of images wearisome. If you’re in the grip of this kind of obsession, try and rein yourself in and refrain from posting every day – perhaps plan a weekly or monthly ‘milestone’ post, where you can give your followers a fresh insight.

7.  Forget the food

Posting endless images of your meals has become an Instagram cliché and a perfect shorthand for the weird self-fixation that can become a feature of social media addiction. At the very least, your posts are meant to be interesting and engaging; something your daily food intake is very unlikely to be. Only post images of food if they are funny, bizarre or deeply eccentric. Of course, if you are a chef or restaurateur, images of food are your livelihood and it’s a different matter.

8.  Be cautious about children

Many Instagram and social media accounts feature family photographs, and it is a common practice to tag everyone that is featured, so that they can see your post and have access to it. But you should be very careful about this with under-18s. At the dark end of spectrum, paedophiles might be combing the internet for access to children, or you might be providing fodder (an innocent-seeming holiday photograph) for cyberbullying.

9.  Eradicate embarrassment

It is so easy to heedlessly post photographs of your friends in a range of embarrassing predicaments (drunkenness, state of undress, locked in a compromising embrace etc etc) and tag every person who features in them. Tags may not attach to your account because of privacy settings, but the tag itself is still searchable and the image will still be visible on the original poster’s account and will need to be manually deleted. Before you have a chance to do so, the compromising photograph might have been shared and, worse still, potential employers or spouses or family members might have found the incriminating evidence – jobs and relationships have been lost for less.  You may be posting and tagging embarrassing photos on autopilot, not out of a sense of malice, but the consequences can be dire. Make it a rule to always be thoughtful and considerate about the consequences of your actions.

10.  Report abuses

Abuses of social media sites are a never-ending story and policing them is the duty of everyone. If you witness anything that is unacceptably rude, offensive or cruel, delete it and report it. It’s so easy to see these things as you roam around social media sites, and it’s tempting to just shut your eyes and move on. This is rather like seeing plastic bags and crisp packets littering a well-known beauty spot, averting your eyes and ignoring the eyesore. We all know that we are innocent, we are not the perpetrators of this kind of behaviour, but if we’re responsible citizens we’ll do our best to mitigate it, whether it’s picking up and binning someone else’s litter or reporting an online abuse. Little by little we’re making our online world a better place.


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