Instagram is hosting a three-day virtual event called Creator Week from June 8-10th, as Variety first reported. What’s being marketed as a “professional development event series designed to help creators grow their followings and make more money” might have a deeper reasoning, as artist Sean Williams first brought to light on Twitter.
From Evanston, Illinois, Williams is a full time artist who also runs WEIRDWILDWORLD, a black-owned, one-man-run streetwear/art brand. Williams first heard about the non-fungible token (NFT) space as early as September of last year. “My friend Victor (@Fewocious) sold a digital piece on SuperRare for like $1500 or so at the time, and I was blown away by the fact the his work was being valued in that way, so I decided to do my due diligence; I was already a little familiar with blockchain tech from the bubble in 2017, but crypto art made me finally decide to pull the trigger,” he said. “I read up on Ethereum, NFT’s and how to jump into crypto art with the help of one of Loopifyyy’s articles, and dove in head first.”
On May 4th, Williams received an email from an Instagram staff member introducing himself and asking Williams if he would be interested in joining a “private event for NFT creators” later in the month.
MORE FOR YOU
Williams, at first, was excited by this and responded back and set up a time to Zoom with Instagram. After that meeting, he played back the recording, which he saved on his phone. “I have really bad ADHD so at the time, I figured it would be best to have something to refer back to to take notes on our conversation,” he explained. After a second listen, Williams began to notice that what really might be happening is Instagram framing a discussion panel as a way to get cheap high-level consultation from experts in the NFT space. A follow-up email asked Williams to sign a one-way NDA and offered him a $1,000 honorarium, which seemed odd to him.
The Instagram staff member also mentioned that the engineering and product team would be at the Commune, “[We would] have some of our engineers, uhm, also be in there and talk to you guys uhm and then maybe possibly show you… some things.”
This began to seem more and more to Williams like a tech giant taking advantage of expert artists, and not properly compensating them. “Some of the questions were very leading too, and were basically asking me ‘why is Twitter so good for NFT’s but Instagram isn’t?’ That, plus the fact that we’d be sharing our experiences for the engineering/product team? And we’re getting an “honorarium”. Either it’s just a conversation and there’s equal value in both positions, or we’re consulting and we should be valued properly. They don’t get to use their leverage as a platform to create some weird in-between,” Williams said.
Williams’ partner, Sophie Sturdevant, has been a traditional artist full-time for 8 years and has recently transitioned to minting NFTs. Sturdevant was also invited to the NFT Commune and reacted similarly to the outreach from Instagram, “Instagram feels like the friend that only reaches out when they need help moving, and you don’t hear from them otherwise. I actually believe they’d have had an easier time here getting artists on board if they’d been listening to their users this whole time.”
Creators, especially artists, have grown increasingly frustrated with Instagram.“The biggest issue is lack of visibility for creators. I’ve been an active user for about a decade — using all their features, posting consistently, hashtagging, all the bullsh*t — and have yet to meet 2k followers. I’ve been an active user of Twitter for about 5 months (diving in when I got into NFTs), and am over 3k. I know followers are considered a vanity metric, but they matter to an artist. The visibility matters; that social proof matters,” she said. “What IG has done is force the artist to become a content creator, and not every artist is a content creator. I don’t want to have to use every feature (IGTV, Reels, Stories, Shopping, etc) for the algorithm to consider me worthy.”
Sturdevant was not at all surprised to hear that NFTs were on Instagram’s mind, adding, “Instagram’s M.O. is monetization. It shapes and drives everything they do, even at the expense of their users and the creators that defined their platform early on. I don’t think any of us are surprised to learn that, as soon as there’s another opportunity to make money off the back of artists, they’re doing it.”
If Instagram were to create a marketplace for artists to sell their NFTs within the app, at first it might seem like a positive change. When you look at it harder, it’s really a huge tech company just trying to make money off of more art it doesn’t own. “Facebook and Instagram are down bad right now. I don’t know a single artist who feels appreciated, seen, or feels like they get any sort of artistic representation from using the app,” Williams said.
To someone who doesn’t understand or doesn’t like NFTs for their environmental problems, this is an issue that’s outside the blockchain. “This is about artists, about today’s creators, and our inability to leverage the tools promised to help us. My artistry isn’t a hobby, it’s not an act, it’s not a way for me to become an influencer. I’m an artist outside of platforms, social media, and NFTs, but I’m not going to be one that eats if I don’t partake in these things. This conversation is relevant to the creator/the social media user/the digital marketer/etc, not just the “NFT creator,” as all of us are Instagram’s product,” Sturdevant explained. “They’re just expanding their product suite on the backs of today’s creators. And whether someone uses or believes in or advocates for NFTs or not, this is a problem — creators have been exploited for their work and their societal contribution for too long. This is yet another tiring example of that.”
These conversations have been edited and reduced for clarity.