Instagram Recommends Me Sex Posts “Based On People I Follow”

I am still a relative newcomer to Instagram. When trying to look for interesting images and other photographers, I use Instagram’s search tab regularly. By default, Instagram’s search function will return you a list of recommended images that are any one of “popular now”, “based on images I liked”, “based on people I follow”, etc. A fairly logical algorithm to identify images a user might be interested in. Then one fine day, I beheld a sex advertisement in my search results:

Screenshot_2015-10-19-17-12-27-editNote the image highlighted in red…

Now that is interesting. Since I do not go around “liking” naughty pictures, it is either the Instagram demographic demonstrating their human frailties, or some people I follow being really lonely or libidinous. Like a good photographer, I of course followed my investigative instincts and decided to probe further:

Screenshot_2015-10-19-17-13-08-editIdentities of the advertiser and people who have “liked” the image hidden for decency’s sake…

So, a certain Mr. X I am following gave his approval for this, which led to Instagram recommending this image to me “based on the people I follow”. Just to be sure this is not a case of mistaken identity, I clicked on the name of the user that was recorded to have expressed their happiness for this post. Sure enough, it took me to the profile page of Mr X. Oh, Mr X.

Thinking carefully about my findings, I came to two possible reasons for why this is happening:

  1. Mr X is either really lonely, or has a private lifestyle that is not apparent from the photography persona that he projects to the world and his followers.
  2. Mr X is actively engaged in “follower farming”. That is, “liking” images and “following” people indiscriminately to garner reactionary “likes” and followers. Or he is utilizing other “follower farming” mechanisms and this is just a tell-tale sign of using such non-discriminating services.

I am quite certain Mr X is intelligent enough not to make careless mistakes about any intemperate lifestyle practices that is best left out of sight of the photography community. Hence possibility (2) is probably the correct reason for this irregular event.

Which raises other questions. Mr X is actually a fairly successful image maker. Admittedly he is not really in the “photography business” in the way a “regular photographer” is in. He is more of a “fine art/street photography” person. However his work is excellent and he already has an admirable pool of followers on multiple social media platforms. Why would he have to resort to these unorthodox methods of soliciting more followers and “likes”? Surely his reputation and body of work is good enough to grow his brand?

Apparently it is not enough, as my discovery proved. There are so many people and images on the internet that no matter how good you are, you may still go unnoticed. Unfortunately the reality is that marketing and advertising has greater influence over our popularity than the quality of our work. I mean, there are quite a number of “well-known” image-makers on the internet who seems to spend more time talking and writing and making videos about photography than actually producing pictures that wow me…

Back to Mr X. Will I “unfollow” him, now that I have uncovered a somewhat un-glamorous advertising aspect of his business? No. As I mentioned Mr X really does produce interesting work and is quite a well-behaved, courteous person – at least his internet persona is! :p I am more delighted with the inspiration I get when viewing his work than I am concerned about doubts over his branding campaign. Enjoy myself 🙂

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