Lost in a Loveless Social Media Void
Yesterday, as per my usual routine, I awoke at 5:30am. My partner fed our cranky cats - the reason I'm always awake at such an hour - and I picked up my phone to check the various notifications that had amassed throughout the night.
The first Instagram notifications I saw were from @victoriaolsondesign and @mourningshannon, who had both tagged me in comments on another account's post. I clicked on them only to discover that this account, @altpress nonetheless, had reposted a photo of mine without credit.
I checked the stats: 8,638 likes. Wow! That's easily 5,000 more than I've ever collected on any of my posts, and this was after only 2 hours on Instagram. I felt a combination of burning rage, pride and sheer panic. I thought to myself, this could be amazing for my small business - with a following of almost 700,000 people it'd undoubtedly be incredible to gain exposure through Alternative Press - but it wasn't amazing at all. Whilst the post was clearly gaining serious traction, the only account benefiting from this was Alternative Press. I wondered to myself how many more people were going to see, like or comment on it in the hours to come, not knowing that I am the maker of featured patch and taker of said photo.
I thanked Tori and Shannon for tagging me, commented myself with a no-holes-barred demand that I am credited immediately in both caption and photo, and then proceeded to like and reply to all comments expressing love for the patch or interest in purchasing one.
In my attempts to deal with the situation - both to be credited appropriately by Alternative Press and redirect the interest generated back to me - I was blocked by Instagram and found myself unable to like, reply to or comment on anything, including my own posts. I took the fight to my Instagram stories, calling Alternative Press out for being decidedly un-punk for an organisation that prides itself on being "alternative" and "punk" - whatever these words mean to them I do not know but we clearly have different definitions - only for hours and hours to pass by, still without any credit.
I spent 12 hours in total watching the number of likes increase, all the while growing more and more frustrated. They posted 7 additional photos in the same time period, yet failed to acknowledge any communication regarding my photo; and at this point, 14 hours after the photo had been posted, more than 15,000 people had liked it. 15,000 people didn't know it was my photo. 15,000 people associated that patch with Alternative Press and not me. 15,000 people had no idea I even existed.
Of course, the irony here extends beyond Alternative Press doing something decidedly unpunk for a punk establishment, as their caption to the photo read "need we say more??". Yes, yes you absolutely need to say more. Individuals, those who didn't know it was mine, were also commenting to the same effect, curious to know who made the patch and where to buy it; but Alternative Press, who has their own shop and is sure as hell always on their game tagging their shop and their own products, failed to respond to anyone.
After 15 hours I was finally tagged in the photo but not, quite crucially and as demanded, the caption. Of course there's no doubt this is deliberate because Alternative Press wouldn't want to draw attention to their failure to assign credit in the first instance, wouldn't want to admit to any wrongdoing, but in doing so (or rather, failing to do so) they also made it clear they didn't actually want to give credit to me at all.
Sadly, the speed at which people consume images on social media means they rarely go back and check to see if credit has been retroactively added, so you really only have one shot to get things right. In fact, the way in which Instagram functions means that the greatest amount of exposure is generated in the first hour, so after 15 hours the majority of people who will see a post have been and gone, none of whom in this instance were any the wiser about my existence. Besides, a lot of people don't know that tags can be added to photos, or bother to click on the photos, so it's of fundamental importance that clear credit is added to the caption, i.e. the part that people can read. This is, of course, why I had demanded it.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time this has happened and I'm sure it won't be the last. This particular patch, and moreover this very photo of it, is guaranteed to generate thousands of likes, hundreds of comments and endless new followers. But to credit me? To permit me to benefit from the traction generated by my own photo, my own patch, my own hand? Nope.
In the past month alone, the same thing happened with @gothicdreamers, who posted the very same photo without credit. It gained 2,500+ likes before I was tagged in the photo and, again, not the caption. Perhaps worse, however, is that when they saw the various call outs in my Instagram stories they sent me a message claiming "they didn't know who it was", and when I replied informing them this wasn't good enough they deleted the post entirely. Unprepared to credit me to begin with, unapologetic over their mistake and annoyed someone had called them out for this bullshit they decided they didn't want to have my photo featured on their page at all. Of course they'd already generated 4,000+ likes and endless new followers by this stage, so why would they care.
Interestingly, they read and responded to my Instagram stories hours after I had posted them, stating they had "already labelled me" as if I was calling them out after the fact. Nope, @gothicdreamers, I called you out long before you credited me, and I left the call out where it was to let you and others know I thought this was a deceitful practice.
It's not hard to check the original source of such photos, especially for a product that is currently available online, and yet social media accounts both big and small fail to do this all the time. Without correct credit these accounts are in effect pretending that the products featured are theirs. In the above instances, someone created the patch in question - ME - and by failing to acknowledge this simple fact they're assuming credit for my work; or perhaps they hope individuals will believe no-one made it, which of course doesn't make any sense at all.
The individual from @gothicdreamers also isn't the first person to retort with "I didn't know who it was" - such responses are surprisingly common - and honestly these individuals are just embarrassing themselves. They are already on the internet. They could search by hashtags on Instagram, key words in any search function or use a website like Google. Google exists for this very purpose! It is a search engine designed to help individuals find information on something, anything, including but not limited to products for purchase. It also has a reverse image search function where individuals can upload an image and Google will provide you with details on its original source. It is incredibly ignorant, lazy and selfish for anyone to ignore this tool when to use it would mean crediting someone else, not least because Google does the grunt work but also because they are more than capable of using the same tool when it serves them to do so.
Of course, it isn't always quite as easy as typing four words and having something listed right at the top, but does that mean the creator is any less deserving of credit? Nope.
It seems that since the release of this patch in July 2016 there is always someone ripping off the design or reposting my photos without credit - which, to add insult to injury, always seem to be those that include my hand. The huge corporate website Wish has anywhere between 1 and 5 listings for the above patch at any given time and it's impossible to stay on top if it. All of these listings feature my photos of my patch with my hand. In fact, one of the photos they use even has my [old] branding clearly visible.
It is hard not to feel extremely bitter and frustrated with capitalism, cheap and lazy "creatives" and the continual devaluation of my work by those who don't give a damn about where something originated; and whilst I am trying to run a business and therefore don't want to lose out on potential revenue* I feel most angry and upset about the fact someone else is always taking credit for my work and preventing me from gaining the exposure and recognition I deserve.
[* this is not a capitalist thought in and of itself, for those who might not understand that I too have rent and bills to pay]
The disrespect shown by such corporations and social media accounts, combined with an unparalleled sense of entitlement, is just beyond belief. The lack of due diligence conducted and inappropriate response to being called out after the fact is unbelievable, not to mention the exposure and traction generated at the expense of someone else's labour. Further, these companies and social media accounts issue no apology, whether private or public, nor compensate me for the emotional trauma or financial loss. Congratulations, you have fallen into the capitalist trap, the black hole that locks you in for life, exploiting others for monetary gain or fame. Personally I strive to avoid this very pitfall - never wanting to increase my own exposure through anyone else's hard work, be it creative or emotional - but can't count the number of times others have done this very same thing to me. Am I not the one deserving credit and recognition for everything I have created?
Of course, all of this only further encourages terrible rip offs, only further encourages people to repost my pictures without credit and only further devalues my work. My original photos with credit get lost in the ether; and soon it will become impossible to know who created this patch or who sells it because it will have been credited to the wrong social media accounts and businesses one too many times. If people see this patch they should know it's mine, they should not think it's an original design by @altpress, @gothicdreamers, Wish or anyone else. If anyone wants to buy it they should know to buy it from me, and how to find me.
So I'm saying this now with regards to yesterday's debacle: Alternative Press, this isn't enough. I am not content with a belated tag; I should have been credited from the beginning. The initial 15,863 people to like the post should have known the photo and patch was mine. Even if I wasn't running a business and selling the patch, I still deserved appropriate recognition for my work. It's only right that everyone gains the appropriate credit for that which they have created. As @lilcheshi said in a message to me last night: "it is important to credit whoever is involved in whatever you're sharing ... it's a support system", and in what community could this be more important than the alternative to mainstream society? The community that has always been anti-establishment and anti-capitalist, who believes in support and solidarity.
I await your public apology Alternative Press and hope you take steps to compensate me for this completely avoidable situation.