One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make Instagram a Better Place

Call out thieves when you see them.

Everybody, at some time in their life, has had at least one moment of acting like an entitled jerk.

Yes, I include myself in that all-encompassing “everybody.”

This disclaimer is necessary, because inevitably, when a writer tries to call out some kind of specific bad behavior, the devil’s advocates leap into the comments section shrieking “YOU PROBABLY DO STUFF LIKE THAT TOO!” as if this somehow negates every other bit of wrongdoing on the Internet.

So I’ll be frank. I have not always been thoughtful of other people’s work, and I have not always given credit where credit was due, in my adventures online. Though I never acted maliciously in this area (i.e., I wasn’t deliberately stealing), I definitely acted carelessly. When I was younger and more naive about who owned what on the Internet, I reposted pretty pictures I found on Pinterest without attribution and shared comics without bothering to find out who made them.

I’ve learned from these mistakes, and whenever possible, I try to make sure I am crediting the original creator when I share something online. These days, if someone points out that I’ve neglected to cite my sources, I try to accept that correction, make the change, and move on.

I still do a lot of dumb things in a lot of other areas, but this is one that I’m actively trying to improve.

So it really grinds my gears when I see “content pirates” with huge social media followings taking other people’s work and passing it off as their own. It happens on Instagram, in particular, every single day. Sometimes it’s just carelessness, but sometimes it’s deliberate cropping and editing that transforms an artist’s work into something juuuust different enough to pass off as “original.”

Except it’s not creativity. It’s stealing. It’s wrong. And though there are many, much more heinous crimes going down in our world every day, it makes me mad.

Maybe this makes you mad, too.

But guess what? You don’t have to stand for it.

I really enjoy Lucy Knisley’s comics about everyday life as an artist, parent, and cat owner. In addition to her graphic novels and website, she has an Instagram account, where I have followed her work for several years now. She posts a lot of relatable illustrations about raising her toddler son and about the antics of her cats. I think her work resonates with a lot of people, which is part of the reason it’s so popular. (That, and she’s also just plain super-talented!)

But here’s the thing — you can admire the work of a cartoonist by sharing it with proper accreditation. Even if you cannot be bothered to throw in a few little extra clicks to use a repost app, you can certainly tag the original creator if you choose to share something that they made. It is mind-boggling that people do not do this. And yet I see it all the time, with many different artists. I’m choosing to highlight Lucy Knisley’s work because it was one of her adorably wholesome comics that I saw — uncredited — on a mommyblog Instagram recently.

And that made me see red, because not only had the image been shared without even the barest hat-tip to Knisley, but it had been cropped to remove her watermark, and the woman who ran the account had credited HERSELF in the caption, in case anyone else were to share her post.

As I usually do — and as I suggest you do, too! — I went to the comments to tag the real artist and point out that this work did not belong to the woman who was shamelessly stealing it. And the red I had seen before began to melt away, at least a little bit, because every other comment underneath that image said the same thing.

A bunch of strangers on the Internet had recognized Knisley’s style and skill, and each one of them had taken the time to tag her, call out the obnoxious comic-stealer, and try to set things right.

The woman who posted the comic hasn’t taken it down yet, nor has she responded to any of the people calling her out. I hope she does. And I hope she learns a lesson about not taking things that do not belong to her. (I think she should have learned that in kindergarten, honestly, but maybe my expectations are too high.)

But in the meantime, I’m happy to see that among the entitled jerks on the Internet there are also many decent folks who want to see hard work recognized appropriately. When they see piracy and plagiarism and copyright violation, they call it out. They make it known.

You can do this, too. It’s easy. It doesn’t take long. If you see an image on Instagram that you know belongs to someone other than the person posting it, take a moment to comment and identify the real owner. I’d recommend giving the benefit of the doubt in most cases — not everyone is egregiously cropping and deliberately erasing watermarks (or actually trying to claim ownership of someone else’s work!). Some people are just innocently sharing something they saw because someone else stole it in the first place. But makers deserve credit for what they have made, and if you’re in a position to give that credit, then you should do so.

Contrary to popular belief, artists don’t work for free. They make money on commissions, on prints, on merchandise featuring their creations, and on advertising that appears on their social media. Don’t take that away from them by passing off their work as your own — and if you see someone else doing that, don’t be afraid to call it out.

Because we all have had moments of acting like an entitled jerk. But scrolling by and enabling other people to be that way on Instagram doesn’t have to be one of them.

Historical costumer, fifty-cent-word purveyor, aspiring humorist, and Oxford comma fan. History, books, & musings of a new mom. Twitter: @sewistwrites

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