From the look of Sara Melotti’s Instagram account, you’d think her wanderings through lush fields, scenic roads, and quaint shoreside towns around the world are driven purely by wanderlust and a thirst for adventure. But beneath the pristine sunsets and artsy lens flares, a toxic culture obsessed with numbers, gimmicks, and fame has been simmering for too long.
Melotti has finally had enough of the games and decided to come clean about the truth behind glamorous Instagram travel accounts — including her own.
“I was just feeling really sick,” she told INSIDER. “I’m ashamed of everything I’ve done in the last six months.”
Instagram has become a numbers game.
“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty.” ― Albert Einstein . . . I think nature is what’s keeping my pieces together these days. It allows me to log out for a moment and remember that life is a beautiful mystery and it goes far beyond our understanding of it. I’m at a point in my life where I just don’t care anymore, I don’t care what society say I should be doing to fit in, I don’t care about being cool, I don’t care what people think about me, I don’t care about irrelevant bs that distract me from being true to myself. I want to be free. I want to be me. Nature reminds me of this constantly. Take a walk today, in the park, in the forest, leave your phone at home, observe what’s around you and listen to the sounds. Take a deep breath. Reconnect to who you are. Exhale the bullshit! . . . P.s. There’s an article about me and the piece I wrote on the Daily Mail today! . . . P.p.s. ⚠️ this pic does not reflect real life! (And this is an Instagram spot!)😬 . . . #bali #asia #indonesia #travel #IamATraveler #wanderlust #travelgirl #tlpicks #passionpassport #traveldeeper #tandctravel #beautifuldestinations #huffpostgram #outdoors #livetravelchannel #timeoutsociety #travelstoke #natgeo #lonelyplanet #peoplecreatives #theweekoninstagram #photooftheday #lovetravel #traveler #sky #waterfall #sunset
A post shared by Sara Melotti (@saramelotti_) on May 12, 2017 at 1:10pm PDT on May 12, 2017 at 1:10pm PDT
Instagram used to show posts chronologically, which provided an even playing field. Last year, they switched to an algorithm-based feed, prioritizing photos that users would be most likely to engage with. Many influencers saw their numbers dip because Instagram wasn’t showing all of their content to all of their followers anymore.
Followers, likes, and comments are a sort of currency for Instagram travel stars who sustain their nomadic lifestyles by working with brands. Airlines will offer free trips, hotels will provide free accommodation, and camera companies will supply them with free gear in exchange for promotional posts — but influencers need a big enough audience for that to happen.
As a result, Melotti feels Instagram has become more about quantity over quality.
“Today, everybody wants to see your social media numbers without looking at your work first,” she said.
Some users follow, like, and comment on random profiles to attract people to their own pages.
There are also “bot farms” like Archie that will find potential followers and interact with them automatically. Instagram shut down one called Instagress last month.
Sad news to all of you who fell in love with Instagress: by request of Instagram we’ve closed our web-service that helped you so much. pic.twitter.com/sIRYfFVywX
— Instagress (@instagress) April 20, 2017
Many influencers also go to the same “Instagram spots” that are proven to get likes.
This Saturday has been great so far 🙈have a wonderful weekend! P.s. more of this beautiful place in the Stories! ✨нашли очередной оазис среди шумного и грязного Марракеша 💙@bemarrakech 📸 by @dolgadolga
A post shared by P o l i n a | П о л и н а (@polabur) on Mar 4, 2017 at 7:10am PST on Mar 4, 2017 at 7:10am PST
A post shared by Leonie Hanne (@ohhcouture) on May 14, 2017 at 9:43am PDT on May 14, 2017 at 9:43am PDT
I’m in PARADISE!🙌🏻😍 This Riad is gorgeous! @bemarrakech #bemarrakech #travel #marrakech #morroco #zalando #michaelkors #cat #riad #swimmingpool #wendygoesmarrakech #instadaily #instacofd #instagood #fblogger #riadbe
A post shared by Wendy Van Soest (@wendyvsoest) on May 2, 2017 at 4:11am PDT on May 2, 2017 at 4:11am PDT
Melotti said that no one cares about being original anymore — they just want to do whatever will bring their numbers up, even if that means taking the same photo of the same place from the same angle as everyone else.
Some collective accounts with large followings exploit creators.
Collective accounts are themed Instagram accounts that feature work from other artists. Anyone can submit a photo by tagging the account and using their hashtag. Some of these accounts have millions of followers, so getting featured on one is valuable publicity.
When Melotti submitted her work to collective accounts, she was outraged when they asked her to pay hundreds of dollars in order to feature her photos.
“I got super pissed,” she said. “It’s insane to me that they’re doing that to artists. Artists like us are the reason that they exist in the first place. It’s unfair to build a business on free content, and then turn and charge people.”
What started as creators supporting each other turned into a full-blown Instagram mafia.
Lately I’ve been questioning a lot of things, instagram and photography are some of them. Being a photographer sometime means you have to sacrifice the present for the future, missing out on living the moment fully in order to create something you’ll look at later on to remember that instant that never really was. I wrote a new blog post about this conflict I’m struggling with,(link in bio) I hope you’ll give it a read and share your own thoughts on the issue. Is photography a blessing or a curse? . . . . . . #india #asia ‘ #travel #IamATraveler #wanderlust #travelgirl #tlpicks #passionpassport #traveldeeper #tandctravel #beautifuldestinations #huffpostgram #outdoors #livetravelchannel #timeoutsociety #travelstoke #natgeo #lonelyplanet #peoplecreatives #theweekoninstagram #photooftheday #lovetravel #traveler #sky #birds #sunset
A post shared by Sara Melotti (@saramelotti_) on Apr 6, 2017 at 11:28am PDT on Apr 6, 2017 at 11:28am PDT
When influencers saw their numbers drop after Instagram switched its algorithm, they created “comment pods” of 10 to 15 members to inflate engagement on their posts. Pod members alert a group chat when they post a photo on Instagram and direct everyone to like and comment on it.
Eventually, the pods developed into a coordinated effort to land content on Instagram’s Explorer page by maximizing engagement within 30 to 45 minutes of posting, complete with lists of accounts and synchronized posting times — also known as the Instagram mafia.
The obsession with fame and followers became too much for Melotti.
I remember how excited I was when I first started posting on instagram. I finally had a platform to get my work seen, tell my stories, share my life and get inspired by those of others. It was all about creativity and art and The Work, it was fair and ethical and just awesome! Things has changed a lot since, and now I often find myself feeling sick to my stomach when I have to post a new picture… There’s something I’d really like you to read, I wrote a piece called “INSTAGRAM CREATED A MONSTER – A no bullshit guide to what’s really going on” It’s the most honest and important thing I ever wrote; the link is in my bio and you can find out more in my stories. Please please please if you find it useful share it on your social medias, fb, twitter, even in the stories, spread the word about it! Let’s cut the bullshit, Let’s talk! This has gone too far! Thanks to all of you who sent me messages, i’m overwhelmed by your support and kindness and I’m doing my best to get back to everyone asap! I love you all and I owe you so much 🙏🏻💛 thank you with all my heart for following along my life, thank you for caring about what’s right 💛 . . . . . . . #bali #asia #indonesia #europe #travel #IamATraveler #wanderlust #travelgirl #tlpicks #passionpassport #traveldeeper #tandctravel #beautifuldestinations #huffpostgram #outdoors #livetravelchannel #timeoutsociety #travelstoke #natgeo #lonelyplanet #peoplecreatives #theweekoninstagram #photooftheday #lovetravel #traveler #sky #birds #sunset
A post shared by Sara Melotti (@saramelotti_) on Apr 24, 2017 at 1:45pm PDT on Apr 24, 2017 at 1:45pm PDT
She penned a post on her blog decrying the petty tactics people use to build their audiences and calling for “ethical solutions,” which has since been shared over 50,000 times. Some fellow Instagram travelers who share her frustrations were thankful that she spoke up, while others were angry at her for exposing their strategies.
“I think I lost a few friends over this,” she said. “I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. I was just so sick of bullsh**.”
In the meantime, she’s cutting back on her Instagram use and making an effort to use her platform to feature accounts with less than 10,000 followers that she feels deserve more attention.
While Melotti wants people to appreciate her work, she said she doesn’t aspire to the kind of fame that involves millions of followers.
“Just because you have a ton of followers on Instagram doesn’t mean you’re famous,” she said.
“Being famous means you did something that will be remembered. We’re just posting pretty pictures.”
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