A recent investigation by the New York Times into Instagram users who purchase fake followers confirmed what we all already knew: Instagram is awash with fakery. But it's not just a dodgily inflated follower count you need to look out for on the platform: Some of Instagram's top users are also brazenly posting faked photos. Here's how to spot them.
1. The Background Doesn't Represent Reality
Last year, fashion and beauty blogger Amelia Liana came under fire when her all-too-perfect Instagram pictures of famous sites were revealed to be very heavily edited. Anyone who has ever been to those locations could easily smell a rat while scrolling through the social media star's feed. The dead giveaways included a skyline view from the top of New York City's Rockefeller Center missing the One World Trade Center, which when completed in 2013 became the tallest building in the western hemisphere and, therefore, kinda hard to miss; and a photo of India's Taj Mahal lacking either the ever-present crowds or the scaffolding that then covered a tower at the side of the landmark. Liana responded by outlining her "image principals" in a blogpost, stating that while she may use "all available techniques to enhance, sharpen or smarten my images," including improving the light, tidying the background and other enrichments, "all my imagery is actually shot at the time in the location I specify." However, given that her 2017 image of NYC featured a pre-2013 skyline, some remain understandably skeptical.
2. The Shadows Are All Wrong
The Daily Mail did a forensic breakdown of Liana's Taj Mahal pic. One of its big reveals was that the shadow of her elegant "influencer"-style pose stops abruptly at the water. As any moon landing sceptic will tell you, inconsistent shadows are grounds for suspicion and, although it's probably not immediately obvious, the position of a shadow can easily give away a fake photo. Popular Science, in a report about a professor specializing in photo forensics, explains: "We know that the shadow cast by an object will appear opposite the light that caused it. Using that information, investigators can actually map lines between shadows, objects, and the corresponding light sources to see if the image is physically possible."
3. The 'Campsite' Is Ludicrous
Scrolling through Instagram, camping looks completely glamorous and that everyone else is doing it better than you. You know, always camping in a beautifully lit up at tent at the edge of water, on the edge of a cliff, or somewhere else completely illogical. Fear not: It turns out that everyone else (on IG, anyway) is just faking it. If it looks too absurd to be real, it probably is. But if in doubt, check the Instagram account @YouDidNotSleepThere, which on a mission to call out the fake campers and pretentious grammers by reposting their pictures and ridiculing them. Sadly, @YouDidNotSleepThere has inevitably made some enemies and is, according to its page, "ON HIATUS UNTIL EVERYONE GETS THEIR CHILL PILL PRESCRIPTIONS FILLED."
4. The Background Photos Were Stolen
A Thai flight attendant named Louktarn Ticha had more than 150,000 followers on her account, @ticha_ek, where she posted photos of her glam, globetrotting lifestyle. The jig was up early last year, though, when her eagle-eyed followers noticed that she was just stealing other people's photos and photoshopping herself onto them. She responded in the only possible way... by quickly deleting her account.
This one is actually fairly easy to spot: If you come across a suspicious image, simply run it through Google's reverse image search to find possible matches.
Follow This Account for a Dose of Reality...
Travel bloggers Lauren Bullen and Jack Morris have more than 4.5 million followers between them. They separately post gorgeous, highly staged, photographs from their world travels, but on their joint Instagram account they reveal the truth behind them. Making use of Instagram's swipe function, their account @doyoutravelpresets shows photographs before and after Lightroom presets have been applied — along with details of the presets used and (this being Instagram) information on how to purchase them. Hats off to them for for keeping it real by showing that the finished photo is rarely the original image. There is, after all, nothing wrong with a little light editing, especially if you are this transparent.
Imposters: Pros and Cons is Bravo’s home for everything you need to become a pro at conning. Imposters Season 2 premieres Thursday April 5 at 10/9c. See you in the game.