As you might have read on Mashable, this Getty stock photo was widely circulated through social media in the wake of hurricane Sandy and purported to be a shot of the storm approaching New York, an example of one problem discussed during Tuesday’s Social Media Week panel.
Tuesday’s “The Rise of Visual Social Media” panel, moderated by Rubina Madan Fillion (Social Media Editor, The Wall Street Journal), featuring Sean Mann (Social Media Editor, The Wall Street Journal), Sion Fullana (Freelance Photographer), Liz Eswein (Co-Founder, The Mobile Media Lab), and Brian DiFeo (Co-Founder, The Mobile Media Lab) honed in on various aspects of the current state of visual social media, remaining largely within the Instagram realm.
In the culture that procrastinates by staring at posts of aggregated pictures of everything from puppies to family portraits, complacency may characterize our relationship with visual social media. Images are simply captured, consumed, and cast aside across a multitude of social media platforms. We are a community of SnapChat-like consumers. Do you actually remember what your friend’s wedding dress looked like from the photos you looked through for 20 minutes on Facebook? Didn’t think so.
Most of the panelists of Tuesday’s talk at 92Y Tribeca seem, like most of us, to take an observational role in the landscape of visual social media. Rather than discuss where technology is taking us and the cultural implications of these changes, whether they manifest themselves in the way we communicate with each other, frame our understanding of the world, or maintain (or don’t) our culture in an increasingly globalized world, the discussion almost exclusively orbited Instagram, “photoshopped” images, and how to take a good mobile photo.
Questions of practical issues were also discussed among the panelists, such as what should be done about any entity that republishes an image without attribution or credit, a very real concern in today’s world of unlimited content. Mann attempted to push the discussion to a wider vantage point by patiently cutting to the center of each question with targeted observations and commentary. Glimpses of deeper conversation were seen, but not explored in depth.
Despite this, each panelist pulled from their varying professional experiences to weave together a lively discussion. Mann assured audience members that news agencies have checks and balances, namely jigsaw replication (piecing together a scene of an event by looking at images taken from various angles by different people present), in place to avoid printing or publishing fraudulent images, while Fullana urged caution, citing a prominent Spanish publication that paid 30,000 Euro for an adulterated photograph. DiFeo and Eswein, with their extensive knowledge of Instagram, weighed in on the omnipresence and ease of photo-altering apps. According to Eswein, the presence of filters on mobile phone cameras is “just an evolution of how filters have been enabled previously” and offers the ability to bring out nuances of a photo. DiFeo assured listeners that a photo filtered the wrong way would jump out at them.
One such moment occurred when the panelists discussed newcomer to the visual social media scene, Vine, a platform for creating six-second videos and what they see as the limitations of this new format. Fullana cites our decreasing attention spans as a major obstacle to Vine’s success in the news industry, claiming no one would invest six seconds in a video when they could instantaneously gauge their interest in a story from their reaction to a photo. Fullana’s claim seems akin to promoting a movie through posters rather than trailers and, therefore, rather shortsighted. The panel seemed to unanimously agree that Vine contextually doesn’t work for news coverage because Vine videos are planned and edited rather than shot in the moment. But what if Vine-like videos, produced through this app or another technology, could prove to be the movie trailers of feature news stories Couldn’t they be more attractive than a correspondent or anchor’s one sentence pitch? I wish, instead, they had discussed what it means for modern-day reporting if a package of six seconds or 140 characters is seen as too much content.
Maybe no one knows what advancements in visual social media mean for an array of visual industries, but Social Media Week is the best time to contemplate that horizon. Conjecture may be all we have at this point, but that’s where the exciting ideas and innovations happen. If the talk had dabbled more in the unknown, everyone’s passion for visual social media would have been more fulfilled.
Linnea Zielinski is a freelance project assistant and intern at Serious Eats and a grad student studying publishing at NYU SCPS.
Top image courtesy of istwitterwrong
“Rise of visual social media explained in a pic of the audience – almost all on their mobile phones #smwvisual” Photo and Tweet by Sean Mann (@fieldproducer)