When does editing become lying?
Every few months it seems, another influencer or social media celebrity gets “caught” by their fans, or their critics, “lying”, “faking”, or even … editing their photographs.
Yet this was originally one of Instagram’s key features – the ability to easily filter and edit your photographs. While it is true that not everyone edits or filters their photos, it is extremely common and yet when it is discovered in others it is gossiped about like scandal.
Perhaps, though, we are at the crest of this judgement wave. The recent outrage against Martina "Tupi" Saravia, who used the same sky from an apps sky library a few too many times, has fizzled out after she pointed out that she never hid her edited skies. And with this admission no one cares anymore.
The difference between this case and others is that Tupi actually was in those places, seeing those things, just with a post edited sky. Other Insta stars have actually superimposed themselves into other photos, or into places they’ve never been using stock images. Perhaps the most famous of these gaffs was the influencer whose stock image was taken before the Freedom Tower in New York was completed – but her alleged trip had taken place years after it was standing tall in the sky line. This influencer in particular has refused to address these allegations.
So where is the line? Is a sky library ok when it is done to enhance the natural beauty of a place? What about a sunset sky superimposed over a northern horizon – surely that crosses the line in to lying?
For many the answer lays with the intent of the influencer or artist. Are they simply providing a beautiful piece of art, or are they selling something other than the image? When a post is sponsored, perhaps the responsibility lays with the poster to ensure that any ‘unreal’ aspects are fully disclosed. When it comes to digital art there is plenty of room for play – there shouldn’t be anyone who is duped by an image of the moon melting into a volcano. There is however, a plausible complaint when the creator is not presenting the image as art but as a true image of a destination or business, regardless of if they were paid by that destination or business for the exposure.
Further than intent, disclosure matters too. There is a big difference between images which are obviously abstract or composite images for artistic purposes and editing out crowds at famous landmarks which creates an idealised and ultimately false projection. This is a different argument again than beauty editing – when people are edited to make them unrealistically conforming to a narrow societal standard of beauty which is often intentionally misleading or actively damaging. The line gets even blurrier when those edits aren’t made by a photographer or magazine, but by the person in the photos themselves. The argument can be made that if you want to edit your own face or body then whose business is that? This self-editing, though, can be seen to both be a symptom of the Perfection Myth and to contribute to it. Perhaps the biggest issue with the curation of a perfect face, body, and life is the cycle of unrealistic expectations it perpetuates.
Tupi has never lied about the fact that she edits in nicer or brighter skies when the photograph she wanted to use was blown out or underexposed. In fact, she often proudly tagged the app she used to do the editing. The app and Tupi are now collaborating on a sky library so that others may avoid overuse of the now infamous cloud. She also never edited in a sky that was impossible for the location to have naturally.
With developing technology and generations of users growing up in a social media saturated world, this discussion will also develop and change. As with many things in life, ethical editing seems to rely on balance, intent, and honesty.