When an eagle-eyed Twitter user noticed an influencer posting images with identical cloud formations, he wasted no time in calling out her ‘spooky’ behaviour. Matt Navarra’s tweet (below) about Martina Saravia got 35k likes. Articles followed, reporting on her being ‘caught out’ and ‘admitting’ her work was edited.
Rather than being shamed by the debacle, Martina’s response was frank and open. Yes, she edited her pictures when the sky was over exposed or didn’t look right. Why always the same clouds? Because she thought they looked the best.
Authenticity has become a buzz word when it comes to influencers. Part of their appeal has been their relatability and difference from celebrities and mainstream media. It is what has made them such an effective marketing channel for brands. Audiences come to trust them and take their recommendations.
Social media has also allowed a more diverse range of voices to be heard. Social users can find influencers that speak, and look like them. Unfiltered body positivity advocates, mummy bloggers showing their real home lives, fitness influencers posting their outtakes.
But not every influencer and social content creator is on a crusade for complete authenticity. If a social user has become popular for posting beautiful images, their objective may have never been to share an unfiltered reality. If candidness was never promised, is it fair to expect it?
“Like shooting at vibrant locations and coordinating outfits, editing is just part of the process” says Vamp creator Anoushka Probyn.
“Most images are edited in professional industries, from fashion magazines to traditional advertising and it’s simply accepted. Yet because influencers are under pressure to be ‘authentic’ all the time they come under fire for doing the same thing.
“Occasionally I will put in a blue sky if it was a cloudy day or edit people out of the background. If I’m travelling or have a tight deadline, I don’t have time to wait for people to disappear or to come back on a nicer day. Often it can be a perfect blue sky, but the image comes out overexposed, so I’m just trying to make it look how it was in reality.”
Fellow Vamp creator Jona Mendoza explains that editing is one of the reasons for his popularity on Instagram: “My following initially grew because I was posting my images before and after I used Photoshop and other programmes. My account is creative and its growth is directly linked to how imaginative I can be with my work. Editing helps show my creativity and push my artistic boundaries.”
With so many content creators on Instagram, not to mention a quality-orientated algorithm, it is in the interest of anyone posting content to make it the best it can be. For influencers and brands alike, high-quality, captivating content gives them the best chance of being discovered.
“It's good to have a feed that can stand out and has a nice flow to it. Followers respond well to that consistency” says Vamp creator Aida Tabrizi. "As a content creator amongst millions of beautiful pages, it can be hard to stand out, so having your own style helps.”
Anoushka agrees: “I edit because I want my images to be the best they can be - there are so many content creators out there, you just can’t get away with posting a mediocre image anymore.”
Of course, authenticity is still an integral part of an influencer marketing campaign. They should share honest experiences and never mislead audiences. Content creators should have a genuine connection with their followers. These aspects are all still important. But we can’t conflate any type of editing with a betrayal of authenticity.
Martina’s quick explanation of cloud-gate proved that dishonesty was never her intention. She explained her editing both before and after the tweet went viral. Similarly, the influencers I spoke to said they have always been open and honest about manipulating images.
Anoushka said: “I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to pretend my images are authentic. I regularly share these edits in my stories and even on my feed, because people are interested in seeing the process and it’s not something I’m trying to hide.”
“Instagram is a highlights reel, and people are aware of that. I don’t spend my entire life sipping unicorn milkshakes in flower-filled cafes! There are influencers who post more raw, unedited images of their everyday life. That is their USP so if they started editing things, I can see why it could be problematic, but it’s not for everyone.”
“I know that’s not what my audience follows me for. They want to see bright, fun, uplifting images and that’s what I try to deliver - with the help of the odd fake sky!”