online

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.