But Everybody’s Doing It

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But Everybody’s Doing It

Feb 09, 2024

One of the more fascinating times in the history of sport is the “steroid era” of baseball.  Ratings were up and long-held records in the sport were being broken left and right.  At the time, so many athletes were taking advantage of performance enhancing drugs that other players felt pressured to take them as well in order to keep up.  It can be said that the social media platform Instagram has dug itself into a similar hole.  Not only is it a highly competitive site, but the majority of its users are taking advantage of photo editing software to improve their appearance.  It has become such an accepted practice that those who do not alter their photos may be putting themselves at a disadvantage in comparison to others.  Furthermore, many people see these flawless social media influencers and develop a desire to look like that themselves.  I believe the simple act of altering photos has had a significantly negative impact on the mindset of the global population.  Despite the harm that has been done, however, many social media sites have achieved astronomical profits.  Thus arises the question, would social media be as profitable or popular if users were unable to edit their photos?   If Instagram were to suddenly prohibit the alteration of photos, I believe they would certainly lose a wide range of users, but would such a ban truly accomplish anything in the long run?  

Well over half of Instagram’s current users take advantage of photo editing software before posting on the site.  Such a statistic may not immediately seem all too shocking, but it does carry with it some staggering implications.  As of now, it is estimated that Instagram has 2.4 billion users on the platform.  If you simply take half of this total, that means 1.2 billion people have taken the time to learn and effectively use some form of photo editing software.  Furthermore, this implies that well over one billion people felt the need or pressure to properly alter their photos before posting on Instagram.  Therefore, if the site were to suddenly enforce a ban on all forms of photo editing, over one billion people would be faced with a difficult reality.  Those who have grown accustomed to hiding behind false images would finally have to show themselves as they truly are.  For many, only minor differences would be apparent.  Some, however, would be revealed to look like a different person entirely.  I believe this would lead to a steep drop off in users of the site.  It would likely cause half of the users to face a harsh reality and the other half to become substantially disillusioned by the site.

While contemplating the prohibition of photo editing, I began asking myself a question.  When people choose to post edited photos, are they simply lying to the world, or are they trying their best to comply with societal expectations?  It is easy to place blame on such people and say that they are contributing to an ongoing issue, but is it entirely their fault?  Over half of Instagram’s audience is altering their photos, but the rest of the users are still supporting the platform and this type of behavior.  Blame can certainly be placed on Instagram itself, but I believe the users are the true culprit.  The human race’s obsession with beauty has been evolving for centuries, but technology has generated its most significant improvement yet.  Perfection is now an achievable goal that can be accomplished through the mastery of editing software.  Even though it is often simple to spot an altered photo, this type of behavior is still accepted and seemingly encouraged.  If Instagram were to ban photo editing, a large percentage of people would likely gravitate toward a different site that still allows the practice.  As of now, the need to be praised and deemed beautiful is simply too great.  If the mindset of the users were to change, however, perhaps someday photo editing will be a thing of the past.  In order for this to happen, all sites would have to ban the use of photo editing software.  Furthermore, people would have to stop supporting those who do alter their photos.  Interestingly, various trends already appear to be pointing in this direction.  In fact, there are numerous videos currently going viral titled “Instagram vs. Reality.”  In these posts, influencers showcase how a basic filter can significantly distort the reality of an image or video.  With the increased popularity of such videos, perhaps people have grown exhausted by the fictitious personas of social media and are ready for something else.  

Instagram’s competitive nature and the individual’s desire to be praised has created an environment where it is deemed acceptable to fabricate photographs.  The tolerance that the public has built around this deception has created false images and implausible expectations.  Though Instagram has become a platform for substantial fallaciousness, the users themselves are the true offenders.  Rather than ostracize those who post altered photos, social media users have embraced such behavior and have cemented it into modern culture.  I believe a good portion of the blame can be placed on the individual users who continue to self-promote fabricated images of themselves.  Perhaps more of the blame, however, should be directed at a society that creates an urge for such practices.  Photo editing software will be prominent for many years to come, but perhaps one day soon people will no longer have the need to create false images of themselves.  Ultimately, this day may only come when people develop a desire for truth over beauty.

Samuel Miller, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "Instagram is known as the “beautiful people” platform in part because many of the photos are touched up or staged. If Instagram prohibited the alteration of photos, would it be as popular?" Sam is an Integrated Marketing Communications major.

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