Social Media Images as Representation

Modern Keyboard With Colored Social Network Buttons.

There has been a trend in visualising and conducting analysis on large image sets posted on social media. Often this is carried out in an attempt to make some cultural or social assumptions (Hochman, 2013, Hochman, 2012, Hu, 2014). Hochman posses questions like “How can we use computational analysis and visualizations of the content of visual social media . . . to study social and cultural patterns?”(Hochman, 2013 ) or to present “research that indicates differences in local color usage, cultural production rate, and varied hue’s intensities”(Hochman, 2012) While I’m not against the idea of exploring such avenues for analysis and study I do however find concern in the lack of critical examination when exploring these topics. Are sites like Instagram a viable source for this kind of questioning?

In an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror titled “Be Right Back” Martha’s boyfriend, an active social media user, passes away suddenly. In an attempt to deal with the grief she installs an app which mimics his speech patterns and eventually appearance. When confronted with her reconstructed boyfriend Martha states that “You look just like him on a good day” to which he replies “The photos we post tend to be flattering”. I bring this up as a starting point to question the kind of interpretation we receive through images on social media. Is what we see on Instagram a reflection of wider cultural patterns or can we only apply such views within the context of the app. Are the photos on Instagram personal expressions or reflections of over arching themes? Users exist within filter bubbles and as a result suffer to “ideological segregation”(Flaxman, 2016). Does this mean the content we is see individually generated or affected by Instagram existing within a filter bubble itself? As Tony Bradley explains in his article “When our social media accounts are filled with sunshine and rainbows, we begin to think the whole world is sunshine and rainbows.”(Bradley, 2016) Examinations of Instagram become examinations of constructed realities rather than reality. To go further Brooke Wendt in regards to this argues that we are “unaware that we are looking at ourselves, we become numb to our self-portraits and produce many different versions of ourselves.”(Wendt, 2014) In this ways examinations in identifying selves and users in images through social media only reflects a filtered self. Images on social media are therefore a powerful force which can distort perspective. I feel this should be acknowledged when studies are conducted on mass social media image collections and that parallel assumptions can not be drawn from social media realities . My sentiment does not however mean analysis and such investigations should not be conducted or are not important. Though representations may not reflect reality, people deem them important enough to share and contribute which alone gives them importance and force.


Bradley, Tony. “Leave Me Out Of Your Instagram Algorithm Bubble” (2016)web Accessed 4th of December 2016

Flaxman, Seth, Sharad Goel, and Justin M. Rao. “Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Online News Consumption.” Public Opinion Quarterly 80.S1 (2016): 298-320.

Hu, Yuheng, Manikonda, Lydia, and Kambhampati, Subbarao. “What We Instagram: A First Analysis of Instagram Photo Content and User Types” International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (2014)

Hochman, Nadav, Schwatz, Raz. “Visualizing Instagram:Tracing Cultural Visual Rhythms”International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (2012)

Hochman, Nadav, and Lev Manovich. “Zooming into an Instagram City: Reading the Local through Social Media.” First Monday 18.7 (2013)

Wendt, Brooke. The Allure of the Selfie: Instagram and the New Self-portrait. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, Hogeschool Van Amsterdam (2014)

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