Nearly everything is content nowadays. Picture of your dog? Content. Screenshot of an embarrassing text to your landlord? Content. If you can tweet it, by god, it’s content! But, that doesn’t mean it’s good — sorry if you posted a picture of your dog recently. I’m sure the post is adorable and got many many likes.
But when it comes to ownership of content (written or visual), social media has created a muddy grey area that has left many artists, writers, and photographers left in disarray — and sometimes in unfortunate positions. Anyone can screenshot anything and share it without giving credit — and then the snowball begins.
Allow me to dive into a few of these cases, in the hopes that it can make us all better social media users that support artists and their work, while still sharing their messages with our followers and beyond. We’ve all seen the classic inspirational text posts on Instagram — they’re generally written in typewriter font, and sometimes look like they’ve been run through a few filters and several rounds of screenshots.
Ah — there is it. Thank you, Britney! Lovely, huh? Inspiring, even. Nearly 265,000 people liked her post and comments began to flood in with praise and kind words about the words that she shared; in short, people were touched. A few people even asked if Britney Spears herself wrote the excerpt.
(Spoiler alert: she didn’t. But she has written so many bops and don’t you ever forget it.)
Stay with me here. Meanwhile on the other side of the internet, meet Matt Haig!
Matt is a British author, mental health advocate, and active tweeter. You’ve probably gathered by now that Matt is the one who wrote the excerpt that Britney Spears shared on her Instagram feed. Hang tight, Britney stans — I’m not trying to drag her here. How could I? She’s Britney Spears!
But this brings up a larger issue in the age of social media — it’s easier now than ever for artists, writers, and creators to be left out of their very own viral fame. Matt Haig fans were quick to inform him that his words were being praised by thousands of Instagram users, and as any writer should, asked to be credited.
If you’ve ever been on the internet (hello, you’ve made it to this blog) you know that sometimes celebrity fans can be, well, unkind to anyone who dares to disagree or confront their beloved leader. Let’s just skip to the next chapter here:
Matt Haig isn’t alone in fighting for credit on social media, only to be met with intense backlash and criticism. Any Miley Cyrus fans in the house?
Of course you know who Miley Cyrus is — you may just be one of her 96.2 million followers! But are you familiar with Becca Rea-Holloway (aka The Sweet Feminist)? She’s a baker who has found her niche in “mixing sugar + strong opinions.” Becca created this cake in May 2018, just over a year before Miley Cyrus announced her “very special collab” with Planned Parenthood and Marc Jacobs.
What’s really tricky here is that this pastry plagiarism is far deeper than just screenshotting an image and absentmindedly forgetting to tag or credit the creator — someone behind the scenes of Miley’s project saw Becca’s work and decided, “let’s use that.” And let’s not be naive here: that person certainly wasn’t Miley herself.
Rightly so, Becca called for her idea and her work to be credited. As a follower of @thesweetfeminist, I watched this issue unfold live, as Becca updated her followers on Instagram stories. Miley Cyrus fans quickly jumped to her defense, claiming that it was “just a cake” and discrediting Becca’s need for proper credit (at the very least). For days on end, Becca was met with hate messages and intense criticism.
Like a true feminist baker queen, she served up a fresh baked cake for her haters:
The sentiment that stuck with me the most in this post was her unwavering ownership of her creative property no matter what her medium may be. She said it best herself: “my art is valuable and powerful.” What she has shown here is that, yes, social media has made it easier than ever for work to be miscredited, but it has also given artists a platform to advocate for themselves when they see their creative property being exploited.
One of the biggest issues in these specific cases is the loss of incredible opportunity for both of these artists. The consequences of someone with 300 followers to share a picture of Becca’s cake or Matt’s excerpt without giving them credit is far less serious — though we should always be crediting someone for their work. But when celebrities are the culprits, it can bring a substantial loss of opportunity, exposure, and (most importantly) proper payment.
Clearly, as social media users we have room to improve and learn, as shown by the backlash that comes with trying to advocate for your own work. When it comes to posting on social media, a lot of users assume that it’s free reign to share and screenshot however they please because—well—it’s just so easy to do so without consequence. Internet content is less tangible than a painting or a statue in a museum. Essentially, when we move art to social media it becomes a game of “Whose Content is it Anyways?”
Back to Matt Haig for a concise conclusion:
Don’t let the fast-paced and shareable nature of our timelines let us forget that the internet is a place for people to share their work with fans, and also market themselves as creators. If you love what someone is doing on the internet — let them know, share their work, and tag them so you can give credit where credit is due.