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The Ever-Increasing Hostility of Social Media to Artists

Have you noticed? There’s a chill in the air. With rising systems in place like “AI art” and image generation that seems to be creating a hostile environment for artists on the internet, as well as social media platforms that prioritize and reward creating “content” to game algorithms and have your posts be seen by the very people who have already chosen to follow you, there’s also a rising sense of hostility in general towards artists.

What do I mean? There is seldom a week that passes where I am doing my best to work with what’s available to me, and I am treated poorly by other users, or even moderators/administrators of social media circles. How many times have you posted something and heard the following?

“Pay for your ad!”


“This is just an ad.”

“Self-promotion is not allowed here.”

“Advertising is not allowed here.”

“You can’t mention that you made this/you sell it/it’s available to buy. You can’t include links back to any of your social media accounts or your website. You should not even have your username in your watermark.”

No credit, only content!!

Three panel meme of a dog holding a frisbee. The first has the dog with the text "pls content??" over the top. The second has a hand reaching for the dog, but the dog's eyebrows are aggressive and the text above says "no credit!!" The third panel is a close up of the aggressive dog's face (still with the toy in mouth) that says "only content" above it.

Original comic by ​​cupcakelogic on Tumblr.

I find this absolutely wild. Social media, built on the backs of artists – now turned “content creators” because people only stop to look at works you’ve spent hours making for mere seconds – has turned into such an impossible minefield of where you can’t hope to make any sort of headway in your efforts to grow your following or find new clients/buyers for your works. Social media as a whole, including groups, subs, etc will take your works, of course, as long as you never mention anything offsite, anything that could indicate that the work could be used for anything except a three second dopamine hit as people scroll their mindless feeds. You must constantly and consistently be playing a game of cutting your own marketing efforts off at the knees (or gaming the system and toeing the line for getting your links back out there) for the barest of scraps when they do come.

A post goes most viral on Imgur after posting consistently for months, or possibly even years? Well, you’ve only got about 24 hours to make the most of it. Edit your post and drop a link to where someone could support you. And then watch the comments roll in about how it’s an ad, and how you shouldn’t be doing that. A post gets upvoted a bunch on Reddit and lots of commenters are asking where they can support you? Sorry, against the rules to say it. You’ll get banned if you mention at all where people can send money for your cool thing.

Want to add a link to your crowdfunding campaign, Patreon, shop, or something else on one of the big social medias like Facebook/Instagram? Better make sure you turn it into a Zodiac killer-esque puzzle when you mention it by name that your followers then have to decode in order to find out where to support you easily, because if you post a link to anything outside of that social network – sometimes even just any link at all – you’ve guaranteed no one will see your post.

Censoring everything

On top of all of these hoops, there’s also the hoop of censorship. If the automated moderators at Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or Bluesky decide there’s a penis in your artwork, well guess what. There’s a penis in it. Somewhere! The algorithm says so. Banned, banned for life. People have had posts taken down, been shadow banned, and even been suspended for posting things that are not even vaguely sexually suggestive in any manner and appealing or getting reinstated can be extremely difficult, time consuming, and sometimes outright impossible.

But that doesn’t even begin to even broach the topic of the way art is being systematically nice-ified for an audience it’s probably not ever going to reach: “what if my child sees this?”

Nipples (mostly just female), genitals, buttocks, and even too-much skin are swiftly slapped with filter labels (if the social media platform is generous) and hidden from view, or immediately taken down, despite the fact that every single human owns these body parts. What if my child sees this? Well, you should probably explain to them that other humans have butts too instead of forcing people to censor asscracks with smiley faces and stickers.

That’s not even to mention if the subject matter is not sexual in nature. What about violent or gory artwork? Well, same thing, to the trash heap with you. Some of the most violent, sexually explicit, thought-provoking, irreplaceable pieces of human art in history are kept forever in museums like the Louvre – and lots of them are based on Bible stories, don’t forget that. But my roving buttcrack is the one that will need explaining to the imaginary scenario child. Makes sense. When does the unnecessary forced censorship end? Even public television in the UK isn’t as pearl-clutching as social media.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. It depicts Judith holding a man down by his hair on a bed while beheading him with a long blade. Another woman helps to hold the man down.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. It hangs in Museo Capodimonte in Naples.

Moving the goalposts

I recently watched a friend battle with moderators on Reddit. She had been posting her artwork there for years. Her artwork also includes other artist’s work in the final piece, and she always credits those pieces as any good artist should. Well, a subreddit said no, she cannot mention those people and give due credit, as that’s advertising/promotion (to them). She asked if she could put their name on the watermark to give them credit, and was told no. To continue posting without giving credit to the other people responsible for parts of your work would obviously not be right or ideal, but what choice has she been given? New moderators/administrators come in and change their minds on a whim about when and where credit can be posted. The moderators/admins of this subreddit simply answered “no” and gave no other alternatives. How helpful is that?

A special place in hell

Even worse are the people who slice off artist’s signatures and watermarks, then share/repost the work without the artist’s credit (and do not tag or credit the artist in any way in any other form). If there’s a hell, I hope people who do this land directly in it. Right beside the people who simply must share an artwork, but can’t take the five seconds to TinEye or reverse Google Image Search it, and simply say “credit to the artist!” While we’re at it, people who think crediting an artist in the comments of a post because it looks “cleaner” or whatever reason they have can also get on the express hell elevator too (if you don’t know, comments don’t follow along with shares, so the credit being there is meaningless).

Oh, and make sure your stuff doesn’t look too professional, because if it does, it’s no longer artwork – it’s merch. And anything mentioning merch is now advertising. I have consistently discovered that by “downgrading” the presentation of my works (such as photoshopping them onto less-than-ideal photos where I’m holding it in hand, or it’s amidst a mess, something like that) I can reliably garner more likes, more comments, more shares, more upvotes, more engagement. The less polished I make it, even though I need those polished works for my website or my shop, the better it performs, because if it’s too nice looking, it’s merch, and an artist shouldn’t be making merch.

What’s next?

So what do we do here? Social media wants our art. Social media needs our art. Visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok were built on all of our hard work, propagating it with cool and interesting things constantly and consistently. Take away all of the interesting things, and what’s left on social media? Nothing. Nothing but “AI art” vomit and screenshots from Bluesky, Twitter, and Tumblr extorting people way funnier than us, that is.

For myself, I have begun starving the social media machine. I know it’s not good for growth, or connecting with new people, or whatever, but I’ve done my time in the trenches trying to chase after the newest trend, latest thing, and pleasing the capitalist social media overlords. I’ve tried to be the jester in the Meta court, and I know plenty of other artist friends who are doing the same. Why expend effort when there’s no reward? There’s not even any clicks anymore.

Many artist friends are going back to in-person events to bolster their audience instead of trying to capture a sliver of attention on a mobile phone or computer, and honestly I’m right there beside them. This year is the first year I’ve considered starting to purchase items for a professional table set up and trialing it at some smaller, local events. I’ve also been sending a lot of applications for zines, group art shows, and other projects, as well as preparing for another crowdfunding campaign at the end of March amongst over a hundred other artists. Social media just isn’t cutting it anymore.

I am having a nice time on Bluesky and Mastodon, though. Well, until someone comes in and slathers either of them in ads, I’m sure. But for now, I guess I’ll enjoy as much of it as I can. Good things never last. Let the enshittification begin.

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