instagram

My first Instagram free week

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It isn’t something I’ve come across before, for obvious reasons. But when you haven’t logged in to Instagram for a few days it starts sending you little automated emails. Trying to entice you back to see what you might have missed. Trying to trigger that little bit of your brain that deals with dopamine and addiction. Heck, even trying to make you feel guilty about not showing up.

Seriously. If ever I needed a wake up call that the whole app is designed to draw you in, entice you in and then, crucially, keep you there, then these polite, chirpy ‘look what you are missing’ emails are just the thing.

Happily I can report that these pester emails are now directed to reside in my spam folder along with emails from companies that like to tell me about ‘summer beach body deals’ and strange people from foreign climes trying to send me an inheritance.

I quickly logged in to Instagram for a check in last week. Sunday morning over coffee. I had an hours leisurely scroll which was really rather pleasant and then I logged off to spend an hour doing some gardening - my new favourite thing. It’s really nice, especially in the evening to put the phone down and go and do a bit of gentle pottering about. I’ve never been much of a gardener but we recently had some help clearing our overgrown (I prefer the term nature friendly) garden and I was thrilled to find some old peonies that have survived years of neglect, so now I’m trying not to kill them with kindness.

My other plans for my Insta-break have been rather scuppered by the heat wave we are currently experiencing in my part of the UK. I was planning to do some spinning and get to grips with my drop spindle but it’s been so warm that even looking at a pile of fluff brings me out in sweat.

A friend on Twitter gave me this useful tip for working on larger projects in the heat though - using a small folding lap table to keep the bulk of your project off your legs. We had this ugly old table back from when my husband had surgery a few years ago and I’d stored it away. But it turns out that it’s the perfect size to rest my giant granny square blanket on while I work on it. And there’s room for my coffee too - winner!


A summer sabbatical

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What could I do with 2 hours extra every day? 

I've found myself with that thought a lot over the last few weeks, especially since working out that 2 hours is my daily average for time spent scrolling on Instagram. The handy ‘activity’ monitor built into the app shows me all too clearly how much of my daily life is eaten up by this tiny little app that lives on my phone.

Some days it's a lot more than 2 hrs. Now that wouldn't be too bad, if scrolling made me feel good. But right now it's the good old 80/20 principle in action.

20% of my time on Instagram is fantastic. I connect with friends, chat, laugh and share life's ups and downs. I love it and it's truly life affirming.

The other 80% leaves me sad,anxious, stressed and upset. I see online behaviour that I wouldn't accept in any other area of my life and it worries me that it seems to have become the new norm. At a recent school event about online bullying I was struck by the awareness of some of the young adults around me on this issue, it it saddened me that we had adults who aren’t seemingly capable of modelling the behaviours we are teaching to our children.

It's time for a change. My kids break for the summer holidays at the end of next week and I'm thinking I might do the same. The thought of an Instagram sabbatical is an attractive one and the fact that it scares me also is probably a sign that it's much needed.

There are a ton of things I keep saying I want to do more of. I want to read more. I want to learn to spin - properly and I want to spend more time this summer with my kids before I lose them to the mid teen years. All of which are good things to do. And with 2 hours a day at my disposal I reckon that’s a pretty good start.

I’ll also be blogging here a little more and I’ll be using my email newsletters to document what I’m up to, so I’m not going away. Just taking a little step back to refocus, refresh and hopefully enjoy some more creative pursuits.


Combining my twin loves

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Somewhat appropriately after my last post, it's been a while since I've put pen to paper but I've had a wonderful holiday and break with my family and am now back at my desk. As usual after a bit of a break all those creative ideas and projects that I've been mulling over forever all seem to be clamouring for attention at the same time and it's difficult to force myself to sit down and focus - never my forte at the best of times.

For today I've decided to go with my heart and set up something I've been meaning to do for ages. As you know I love to combine my twin loves of knitting and reading and I'm often seen with my Kindle or a book in hand. Since becoming a parent and a knitter however the amount of free time I have to read has dwindled sadly and I can only look back with fondness on those days when I could sit and read a book in a single sitting.

My recent holiday though did give me the opportunity to sit and read for whole blocks of time which felt like a lovely self-indulgent treat and one which I want to carry on doing now that I'm home. Nothing major and no huge goals, just the gentle commitment to try and fit more reading time into my everyday - spending less time on Twitter might also help.

With that in mind I was looking on Instagram for good hashtags which celebrate my twin loves of knitting and reading and found very little. There are some great #bookstagram accounts which I love - those like @bookishbronte and @julybookshelf are really inspirational and have some great recommendations - but I couldn't find many which were specifically for knitters who love to read.

So - we now have #bookishknitter as a hashtag and I also took the opportunity to dust off my long-dormant Goodreads account. It has been neglected for ages so I had a bit of a spring (autumn) clean, added a few new books and away I went.

I also set up a Bookish Knitters Group on Goodreads too - because - well, why not? Please do connect to me over there and let me know what your reading plans are. And if you'd like to join the group - or use the #bookishknitter hashtag on Instagram that would be fabulous too.

And if you are interested in more community (and bot free) hashtags please do think about signing up for my monthly Instagram newsletter. The first one will be hitting inboxes next week and will contains some great ideas for livening up your Instagram, making new connections  and avoiding the bot-ridden bigger knitting hashtags.

Apologies for absence

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I'm seeing a lot of posts over on Instagram and Facebook recently which, much like any formal British meeting, start with "Apologies for Absence". I know that I have certainly been guilty of this in the past and this was indeed the starting sentence to this draft - when I noticed that my last post was nearly 2 weeks ago.

Real life is just that, it can be messy, busy and for a lot of the time, pretty unphotogenic and yet we put this pressure on ourselves and feel bad when somehow things slip and we miss a few days/weeks posting.

I've had conversations with a few fellow Instagramers recently where they have taken a few days off and actually been contacted by followers asking why they hadn't posted. Seriously? Don't get me wrong - we all check in with people from time to time and that natural concern is a brilliant part of the online community we inhabit. But one person actually said words to the effect that "if you can't be bothered to post, I'll unfollow you".

Let's be honest, no one pays to use these sites - whether they are consuming content or creating it. No one has a right to expect a post from you - you share when you want to share. And not before.

If you are busy making memories with the family, if you are busy with work/life or frankly just not in the mood there's no pressure at all to show up and do something you don't want to do.

Sorry - rant over now. I think I'll just sit down and knit with my coffee for a bit and knit on this sock. And yes - if you are wondering I totally did match my nails to my knitting. Sometimes it's the little things that make me happy

Maybe the Instagram bots have the right idea

No pretty photo here today but a bit of warning - this is a bit off the cuff and a bit longer than usual but I hope you will stick with me.

The past weekend saw a lot of activity surrounding the anti-Trump demonstrations in the UK and I was thrilled to see so many handknit items on parade. I love to see our craft used for the purpose of self expression, so photos of Pussy Hats and knitted protest banners - especially the #ballstotrump one knitted by the East London Knitters.

There were however the sadly predictable comments from those who firmly believe that "politics have no place in knitting" and that knitters on social media should just "stick to the knitting". They might as well as "Women - know your place" and have done with it.

I am firmly of the opinion that politics has a place in every aspect of our lives and that to try and compartmentalise it is artificial and ignores the fact that not only are we knitters but we are also humans.

On social media as much as in real life we crave connection and interaction. The recent world events however have meant that people seem increasingly unwilling to see anything that contradicts their world view.

Yes, I'm a knitter and my social media reflects that but I'm also interested in a wide variety of other topics - cooking, parenting, politics, feminism, literature, bullet journaling, slow living. I could go on but you take my point. The knitting (and the politics) are a small but important part of who I am as a person.

Ask folks what they want to see on social media and the answer is immediate with words like "authenticity" "real life" and "reality" frequently heard. We decry people for being "less than authentic" and we criticise the over-styled flatlay.

But, here's the thing, if you want the reality and you want the knitting then you have to accept that other aspects - like the politics - will also come along for the ride.

Every so often I'll share a post about bullet journaling. It never does as well on Instagram as my yarny posts but that's totally fine. But I share a photo of a knitted protest banner or comment on someone else's photo of a Pussy Hat and I receive vitriolic messages and hateful comments. And yes, I'm fully aware that in writing this I will receive more of the same but that's fine.

One message that really struck home was this. "I really hate it when people I follow for their knitting suddenly see fit to air their views on other subjects". But yet, if you can't share your views and your life on your own social media feed then where can you?

If we take that to it's logical conclusion that leaves us with a series of pretty, perfect images of knitting. Devoid of personality, devoid of humour, warmth and that personal connection we so crave. Like a glossy magazine you can flick through but not engage with.

Almost exactly like those recent bot accounts that have swept through Instagram. Beautiful images to be sure but meaningless when taken out of context. Maybe some people really would rather follow an Instagram robot than a real person!

Now that's a thought - and not a happy one.

As for me - I'd rather have real life and the knitted banner complete with "Protesticals" every day of the week.

Instagram likes are your currency - spend them wisely

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A great idea came to me late last night, as all the best ideas do. I’d been speaking to my boys about pocket money and the importance of spending it on things that are important to you and then as I was scrolling through Instagram later on I found myself thinking of the system of ‘likes’ and how we use them.

I know we all like to think of Instagram as a non-commercial platform, even though we know that deep down that we are either there to sell or to be sold to. But the sense of community and of belonging in some part at least, overrides this and keeps us going back day after day.

More than anything we crave connections to fellow humans and crafters and Instagram gives us that ability to connect, to chat and to build real meaningful relationships both online and in person.

The way we do that and the way that our social currency works is through the system of ‘likes’. In a way, ‘likes’ are the currency of Instagram and they are what keeps the whole system oiled and moving.

We judge how good a particular photo is based on the number of likes (I know we shouldn’t, but we do). In a way the number of ‘likes’ tells how good/useful/important something is in the same way that we perceive a more expensive lipstick to be somehow better quality than something we paid £2 for.

This is one of the things which has really riled me about the recent wave of spam IG accounts. These automated accounts run by bots are nothing more than machines built to gather likes. They don’t add or create anything but they harvest carefully selected, popular images in order to induce people to hit that ‘like’ button. And of course, people do hit the ‘like’ button - as that’s what made the images popular in the first place. It’s a carefully calculated and manipulated strategy designed to build the ‘worth’ of spam accounts. The more people that they can persuade to ‘hit like’ then the more their account is seen and then ultimately they can sell off that account to a business and make money from it.

As these spam accounts get ever more sophisticated it can be hard to spot them from genuine ones, especially now with the recent trend of using actual people’s names. But reporting and blocking remains the way forward. Ultimately if few people engage with the posts then these accounts will simply be seen less and they will drop further down the grid that Instagram choses to show you.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of the relentless proliferation of these accounts but small things really can and do make a difference. Choose where you spend your ‘likes’ wisely and let’s help add value to the real, hardworking crafters of Instagram.

PIN FOR LATER

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How to spot a fake Instagram account

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It’s a strange thing and I don’t pretend to understand the reasons for it but spam IG accounts seem to have become a bit of a thing recently, especially on some of the main knitting hashtags. Many of them appear to be particularly random, reposting content from a variety of accounts either with or without credit.

I am reliably informed by people working within the IT industry that many of these fake accounts are randomly generated - so called “bots” - which automatically skim content from various hashtags and repost them. I guess there is some reassurance in the fact that even though the use of your images may feel deeply personal and shocking, there is no malice or ill wish behind having your images used in this way.

[Please note that here I make a distinction between these bot accounts and the malicious copying/hacking of certain accounts. The latter is fortunately much less frequent but it is targeted and motivated by a desire to harm or someone damage someone's online reputation]

It doesn’t stop these fake accounts being annoying though and if nothing else it does effectively “dilute” the quality content on the hashtags which are affected - by having the same few images be reposted again and again.

One thing I have noticed is that they are increasingly hard to identify at first glance and look like they could be real accounts, especially now they seem to have moved away from the very generic @knitting_insta_loves to much more plausible sounding names which could well be real people.

I often mention in my IG Stories about accounts that I have reported and blocked and people often ask how you can tell. How do you spot a fake IG account?

Although I am by no means an expert I do spend a lot of (read: too much) time on Instagram and I have found that the following things generally set my alarm bells going:

Content is not consistent from frame to frame: Most knitters and crafters show progress on their crafty endeavours or the same types of images/props/items crop up in repeated photos scattered throughout the feed. It’s just human nature. We tend to share what we like and often those images are broadly similar. Spam accounts rarely show the same project twice and may vary widely in content.

Spam accounts harvest images from a variety of accounts often lifting the entire caption too. If an account has posts with text in a variety of languages, or is promoting an Easter discount in June then you can be fairly certain that it isn’t genuine.

Under the caption there is often a generic comment such as “tap to like” “do you agree” “tag a friend” which is out of context with the caption. In some cases there is a credit given to the original account but from experience I can tell you that this doesn’t always notify the original image owner. I’ve had accounts use my images with an apparent credit to @louisetilbrookdesigns but no notification has ever reached me.

Once you start looking for such accounts you’ll probably realised that they are much more ubiquitous than you thought. Often they are the same unfortunate images which crop up time and again.

Happily there is something you can do about it though. If it’s your image which has been reposted without consent you can click on the three dots (top right of the image) and select the option to report for copyright infringement. Top tip: it’s best to do this from a laptop/PC rather than a mobile device. You will be asked to provide links to your original content to prove that the image is yours.

If the fake account hasn’t used your images but you would like to block them and/or report them as spam, you can click on the same three dots to do that too. It might seem as though such actions are a drop in the ocean of a sea of fake accounts but Instagram really does take action and the more accounts we flag up to them as spam the more they can help keep our IG feed spam-free.

 

Images and Ownership

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If you are a longer term reader of my blog it won't be a surprise to you to hear than I am a huge fan of Instagram. I love the platform as a way of connecting with a vibrant online community of other knitters and crafters. It's a great place to soak up visual inspiration and generally hang out with like minded folk.

Recently however I had started to notice an increase in the type of accounts which seem to exist solely for the purpose of reposting other peoples photos. Now, just to be clear, there are some great accounts which do this brilliantly. Collating and curating a fabulous selection of images from a variety of creative sources. When done well, with appropriate tags, accounts like this work almost like an online Insta-magazine. Showcasing a variety of fabulous talent and helping you to explore new feeds that you simply wouldn't have found before. Some of these accounts have huge followings, and to have your work displayed in such a way is a great boon to your numbers and following.

Recently though, I and others have noticed a real prolifertaion in accounts which repost other peoples content but without tagging the original creator (or with just a minimal tag). Often they lift the entire text caption too - sometimes in a different language to the rest of their posts. There is no effort made to tag or highlight the original creator of the image. The motive behind such sites isn't very clear to be honest. Some are clearly trying to sell themed mugs or T shirts and are obvously reposting popular images to boost their Insta-numbers but others don't appear to have any motivation at all.

One explanation is that, possibly, some users are mistakenly treating Instagram as though it is Pinterest - "repinning" images that they like to their own account. This really isn't how Instagram works though and as these type of accounts proliferate we run the risk of populating our IG feeds with the same few images again and again.

This recently happened to me. A casual scrolling through one of the popular knitting hashtags - I think it was #igknitters - and a photo of mine popped up right at the top of the feed. It immediately caught my eye because a) it featured my cat and b) I knew that I had posted that image a few days ago and it would normally be buried way down a popular and fast moving hashtag like that one.

After a brief and minor skirmish with the Instagram Gods (and some online form filling) the offending account was swiftly and efficiently taken down but it made me realise that this is a battle that some designers and creatives are facing every single day. And indeed, since first drafting this I have done this on at least 4 other separate occasions.

So, what can we do about it? As ever I suspect, not every much but at least we can be aware of the problem. I know that it is really easy and soothing to scroll through a lovely series of images - quickly double tapping to add your like. But it might be worth checking sometimes, particularly when exploring via a hashtag (as opposed to just those whose accounts you follow) what the actual account is. Alarm bells start to ring when you see a variety of lovely images with various projects and WIPs - never repeated. After all - which genuine account will have so much variety in their knitting life? Or when you see the oft repeated comments "caption this" or "double tap to like" or "tag a friend". Real accounts don't really work like this and might tip you off to look a little more closely.

If you do find such an account it really isn't worth commenting on their post - I suspect that many are "bots" anyway but you can click the three little dots at the top right of their profile. Reporting them as spam, or blocking them is a good way to make sure you don't see them again (and also - they can't see you) but it also might just help to alert the powers that be at Instagram to the issue. Every little helps, after all.

Why I block Instagram followers

Now, it's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Instagram. I love the community feel there, I love the chat and I love the woolly inspiration that I find there on a daily basis. What I'm much less keen on is the rise in fake accounts, in 'pay for follow' activities and general spamminess which gets in the way of my daily dose of fibrey goodness.

I recently logged in to find a rush of over 300 new followers which, to say the least was mildly surprising given that I usually get an average of 10 new followers per day. Closer inspection showed that all my new 'fans' were from non-English speaking accounts. And judging by the 'duck-face' selfie pouts and fairly scanty clothing I'm guessing that most of them weren't interested in knitwear of any description. The mystery was solved a few hours later when I had a direct message from an account saying that they had given me the 'gift' of 300 new followers, and if I paid them a sum of money they would be happy to send more fake followers my way.

Quite apart from being contrary to Instgram rules I found this to be pretty disturbing to be honest. Yes, my follower numbers had taken a huge boost - which was nice - but they were all fake and I'm sure they would have all unfollowed over the next few weeks. It felt horrible knowing that they were there, falsely inflating my IG stats and also I didn't like the fact that if someone viewed my 'followers' page they would see a whole host of the aforementioned duck-faced selfies.

So, I sat down with a cup of coffee and deleted them all - yes - all of them. The main account and a handful of others I also reported to Instagram for good measure. It took some time but it felt so much better and I genuinely felt relieved at the end of it.

Since then I have started to review my new followers on a regular basis and any which are obviously fake or engaged in a 'follow for follow' program I remove and block so they don't show up any more on my followers count. Just this morning I had a new follow from a charming looking gentleman, seated on the bonnet of his shiny Mercedes overlooking a tropical beach. He has 2 posts to his account and followed over 1000 people. I'm pretty sure he isn't my target market - and with 1000 followers he will hardly notice 1 less. 

My IG account now feels happier and healthier and I see far less of the sudden drops in followers that can occur periodically as all the follow bots kick in and unfollow those who don't follow them back.

I feel that I can focus more on relaxing, chatting and engaging with those wonderful woolly folk around me, and spend less time worrying about fake followers.

Although, maybe with hindsight I could brush up on my selfie pose - it clearly needs work.