Is This Photographer Overreacting About the Ethics of Social Media?

We’re streaming daily on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and Spotify!

We, as photographers and journalists, often wrestle with the idea of abandoning social media. Our EIC walked away from his Instagram for the whole of 2020. I’ve also taken consistent breaks to keep my mind in check. The frustrating part is, the apps can be useful for photographers, but they’re often of no use for the mind. And with companies like Facebook (which has a growing monopoly on the apps we use) often having their actions questioned, the use of such apps can go against our ethics. In this piece, we look at how one photographer feels about using social media and the ethical struggles they have when doing so.

Ethics of Social Media

When it comes to social media, Facebook sits at the top of the hill. It currently has 2.7 billion users. Instagram, a company owned by Facebook, has 1.1 billion users. It’s because of those kinds of numbers that photographers want to use the platforms to promote their work.

But with Facebook continually being flagged for their actions, which include misuse of data and allegedly interfering with elections, some photographers feel like boycotting the company.

A conflicted Redditor posted:

“As I’m sure many of us have been, I have been using my pandemic induced free time to do some intensive organizing and editing of my photography archives. I now find myself with an ethical dilemma: I want to post my pictures to Instagram, a Facebook company.”

“I quit Facebook some 7-8 years ago and Insta some 3-4 years ago due to the many scandals Facebook has been implicated in over the years…”

“Sometimes it seems like a silly stand to take / hill to die on– I am, after all, an infinitesimally small cog in the machine– but that hasn’t stopped my conscience from shouting at me every time I think about giving “the gram” another shot.”

Ethics of Social Media / Don’t Like. Don’t Use.

The photographer clearly understands their stance on the ethics of social media. And with that in mind, I’m unsure why they’re making the post. If something makes you uncomfortable, then don’t get involved with it. They’re clearly against the Facebook company, so why are they considering sacrificing their values?

There’s only one reason why a person should continue with a social app that goes against their ethics: money.

If you are one of the select few that has been able to monezite Instagram, whether through getting regular photography gigs or sponsored content, we understand that it makes it more challenging to walk away from the platform. But, if like the Redditor, you use it solely for storing your images, then you have alternative options.

Build Your Website

Building a website to showcase your work is the best option. Firstly, it removes the question of ethics (unless you’re unethical), and secondly, it gives you complete control over the kind of photographs you publish.

Some may complain, “But my website has zero traffic compared to Instagram’s one billion users.” And this is true. But the key thing to remember is your Instagram feed doesn’t have one billion people following it. In fact, the average amount of followers one user has is 150. That’s not that many, and with the right approach you could quickly generate much more traffic than that – daily – towards your website.

Blogging will be your best route to bringing people to your site. Sure it will take a little bit of work, but if you’re serious about getting eyes on your photographs, then you shouldn’t have a problem with it.

The Real Problem Is You

The brutal truth is if you have a problem with the ethics of social media but continue to use it, companies are not the problem; you are. People constantly look for excuses to go against their ethics. “It’s easy to use” and “everyone else uses it,” seem to be the most common when relating to social media. You then make yourself feel better by declaring your awareness of how bad these companies are. But that isn’t enough if you really care.

So, if you’re uncomfortable with the actions of Facebook and its sister company Instagram, delete your account. Turn your back on what you’re against, and stop complaining about the use of it.

And if you do continue to share images, be honest to yourself about how much you actually care about the standards set by Facebook. Nobody online needs another verbal hero. Just continue to make photographs and share them – simple.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host professional photographers within the industry.