Spam on social media is nothing new. In late 2014, Instagram purged inactive & fake accounts. Users lost thousands of followers from this action, resulting in a huge number of complaints and comments asking Instagram to bring their followers back. But by July 2015, research showed that spammers had returned to the platform since the purge, finding that 8% of Instagram accounts seemed to be fraudulent. The researcher group focused specifically on Instagram, because the posts seemed to reach higher response levels from other users, compared to social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.
Various apps exist to help users identify all of the spam accounts following them on Instagram. However, many people aim to acquire as many followers as possible, and so, they aren’t too bothered by such accounts. With a high amount of followers, they may be offered special deals or free products to post & promote. They could also want their business to look popular on Instagram to their customers. Or for some people, it’s possible that they simply want to feel good when a selfie generates hundreds of likes.
Instagram is full of bots offering the chance to get tons of “free” followers simply by clicking a link in their profile. In addition, there are companies that exist to sell followers to users – even offering Bitcoin as a payment method! The prices can vary greatly. On one of the largest sites, you’ll be paying $59.95 for 10,000 followers. Other sites offer different prices for different specifications, like charging more money for all of those followers to be active users. Some of these companies have thousands of customers, and according to their claims, there are some pretty huge businesses that take advantage of this.
But for the Bitcoin community, I believe that Instagram spam is a problem. When I search “#bitcoin” on Twitter, my results are filled with relevant news articles, thoughts from those in the industry, and information about upcoming events. On Facebook, there are many well-run Bitcoin groups that are entirely free of spam. The same is true for Google+, with its fairly large amount of Bitcoin communities. But a search for “#bitcoin” on Instagram results in almost nothing but spam imagery.
The most common image that comes up says “THE APP MAKES YOU RICH”, with a background of a sports car, girls in bikinis, or cute cats surrounded by dollar bills. These messages are for an app that claims to give users free gifts in exchange for app downloads & spam comments. Then, there’s a guy who posts hundreds of motivational quotes a day, often repeating the same image over and over again. And sometimes, the hashtag is flooded with images of Rihanna or Ariana Grande, despite the fact that those celebrities don’t have any connection to cryptocurrency.
Many people in the Bitcoin world are getting frustrated with the lack of Instagram community, myself included. Coming from an art & photography background, I prefer Instagram to other social media sites. However, I can see why others may be hesitant to use it. For one thing, Instagram doesn’t allow clickable links in the captions of photos, so it’s difficult to link to a cool blog post or news article. And Bitcoin itself is very abstract, so people may not be sure what types of photos to post about it.
Several people are working to change this. In a post titled “How Do We Drive Bitcoin Adoption Forward?“, Victoria van Eyk (ChangeTip) urged readers to tag #bitcoin on their social media posts, in hopes of showing the Bitcoin world to the general public. “Bitcoin is not a get-rich-quick thing, and we’re not all sitting in our mother’s basement in our underwear mining bitcoin,” she wrote. On her own Instagram account, she tags nearly every photo with #bitcoin. In her eyes, the photos don’t need to just be BTMs or miner equipment – “Let’s flood the internet with a true depiction of what we do and who we are.”
Another account attempting to spread the Bitcoin name on Instagram is @glutenfreebitcoin. I first noticed the account about a month and a half ago, and I reached out to co-founder Keirnan Wright to discuss the Gluten Free Bitcoins mission.
Emily Braun: How did Gluten Free Bitcoins begin? Where does the name come from, and what was your inspiration?
Keirnan Wright: It began as a peace-and-love-based Bitcoin entity in Vancouver, British Columbia. One day, we were just brainstorming Bitcoin domains. Obviously, most of them are taken, but it turned out that glutenfreebitcoins.com was still available… we knew right then that we had to grab it. And so we did. Soon, we had a logo drawn on the mirror, and we thought, “Fuck it, let’s put it on a shirt!” Everything since has just been its natural evolution. The reason we chose to expand on Instagram is because we love it, and because it seemed ripe with opportunity to reach a new demographic. I am a Bitcoin enthusiast, and I think this is a great way for me to spread the word whilst having a blast.
For us, health has been something we keep in mind at all times, so it was essential that Gluten Free Bitcoins had a health aspect. We’ve actually got a whole bunch of products that we’ve come up with. We are just waiting to reach 2,100 followers to release our new stuff!
Braun: Did you have any prior background with Bitcoin?
Wright: The first time I actually heard about it was in 2010/2011. I was in my good friend’s basement, and he was telling me about this money created by some old Japanese guy. He was running a free bitcoins site way back in the day. I was pretty spacey, so I focused on my munchies at the time. But in early 2013, I started really reading up on it. I mean, I was completely enthralled. At that point, my dad and I had been talking about it for a while, and I just kind of woke up one morning and never looked back. Near the end of my degree, I really started to see the world for what is was. To me, Bitcoin made a lot of sense. Before I graduated, I wrote a paper on Bitcoin and the blockchain and its role in making piracy irrelevant through micro payments in the 21st century.
At the beginning of that summer, I joined the Bitcoin Co-op in Vancouver. For about a year or so, I worked on helping merchants accept and set up Bitcoin payments. I started mining with a couple other dads at that time. Since then, I’ve really focused on becoming as knowledgeable on the subject as possible. I take every opportunity to bring it up, especially to new people. Ask any of my friends! There are about a million Bitcoin apps I’d like to build, especially ones related to music sharing. For me, Gluten Free Bitcoins is very exciting, and I have grand plans for the future. I’m also very excited about another Bitcoin and health related venture at the moment, called OneUp. That’s something to lookout for!
Braun: Why is it important to you to promote Bitcoin – to merchants, to Instagram users, to new people?
Wright: When something like Bitcoin comes around, you need to shout it to the rafters. I like that it’s independent from everything else – it’s not tied to any company or organization. The potential for Bitcoin is astronomical. You can make it into something so good or something so evil, because it’s open; it’s the start of something new.
Braun: What is the toughest part about explaining Bitcoin to those who haven’t heard of it, or who have heard very little about it?
Wright: Everyone thinks that they’re an expert, but people don’t understand the purpose of money. Especially when it doesn’t have a physical form, it seems imaginary. It’s hard to grasp what a peer-to-peer currency system would look like, let alone feel like, if it only exists in cyber space. There is also a steep learning curve; there’s so much vocabulary that it’s easy for people to get lost. The other thing that really appears to be a issue is the stigma. Most people have only really heard of Bitcoin by name, and if it’s anything further then that, it came from some media outlet. If you imagine that game you used to play in elementary school, Telephone, then you can imagine what sort of difficulty people face getting secondhand information on something that they have no prior context for.
Braun: So how can we increase mainstream adoption of Bitcoin?
Wright: Education, access, and dissemination of accurate information, in language that laypeople can understand. We also need more distribution of glossaries, timelines… just general educational material on Bitcoin. It’s important that young people can start to learn about Bitcoin, because it will impact their future as much as it will impact ours – if not more so. We need more evangelism, minus the evangelism. I think we need to dispel any myth that Bitcoin is an elitist technology. And I think people need to be real with each other, to be open and honest, to follow in the footsteps of the protocol. That also goes for people who are still new to the concept of Bitcoin. I think it’s important for everyone to listen more and argue less. When did we stop having conversations?
Of course, stickers are great too! Random jokes, comics, stories… more lighthearted stuff. Bitcoin seems so serious all the time. We shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously! Stop over-complicating things. We’ve achieved Bitcoin, and we need to focus on putting it to work as soon as possible. There are real issues to face right now, and I think Bitcoin plays a vital role in solving all of them.
Braun: Have you personally used Bitcoin to purchase anything?
Wright: Yes. The first thing I bought was Bitcoin stickers from bitstickers.net. I put my address on them and posted them all over the place. It actually got me kicked out a bar once. I use Bitcoin all the time for beer tabs or for paying people back. I also give a lot of it away to new people, just to show them how it works. Recently, I convinced a street merchant to sell me a silver ring in exchange for Bitcoin. You should have seen his face when his phone made that little sound of change dancing.
Braun: Tell me a little about the connection you see between Bitcoin & health, and how the two relate to each other!
Wright: They are two too-complex ideas. So when you put them together, they become nonsensical. A gluten-free Bitcoin cannot exist, but you can make it into something real. That is the beauty. If everyone was using Bitcoin, I think we would be a lot healthier as a species.
Braun: What are your hopes for the future?
Wright: To the moon! My personal hope is that Bitcoin and the blockchain transform the world into a place of peace and sharing… into a world where we can finally stop fussing about the most mundane things, into a world where we can cut through all the bullshit, into a world where bullshit isn’t even considered.
In terms of health, we would love for people to have the option to have their health information secured on the blockchain. It could be stored depersonalized and common, so you can use information without having to track down the person. That way, the data would be helpful without the invasion of privacy. I mean, you could even earn satoshis for sharing your health data, and it might incentivize people to pay more attention to their well being.
In terms of Bitcoin, volatility in public opinion of Bitcoin seems to be mellowing out. Everyone has heard of bitcoinobituaries.com, but we think that the price and public opinion will congregate on the side of positive suggestion. For cryptocurrency, when the markets, exchanges, and infrastructure are built out and developed to the point where people in real need have easy access, then we will see a true revolution in economic choice. It will be interesting to see if certain cultures are more inclined to certain coins.
Finally, the scandals. Most people know more about Bitcoin scandals than Bitcoin itself, which is a real shame. People should be aware that Bitcoin ‘hacks’ are of exterior entities, exchanges, companies, & websites – not of Bitcoin itself. Bitcoin will force the birth of one decentralized exchange that everyone can use. We just need one exchange that works. My hope is that eventually, Bitcoin will force people to look inward to see the backwardness of our world today. I hope that Satoshi will free the people.
Braun: You mentioned earlier that you see a lot of potential in promoting Bitcoin through Instagram. Can you expand on that?
Wright: Honestly, it’s the simplest [social media platform] to use, and it potentially has the widest range of outreach. It’s a good way to meet people of common persuasions. It helps us reach people who may have never even considered Bitcoin. We feel that through Instagram, we can reach people on a level they’ve never experienced with Bitcoin. The sky’s the limit!
It’s likely that Instagram will be around for a while; I think the days of frequent turnover in social media platforms are slowing down. The photo sharing as a key function is really brilliant. Photos tell a story. They’re beautiful, and I think we can express a ton about Bitcoin through each post. It’s a cool way of showing use-cases and day-to-day life – that Bitcoin is not just for random geeks. Everyone can use it, and everyone needs to use it. Ideally, the goal is to give Bitcoin a prominent presence on Instagram. Especially as we build out the vocabulary and culture, it should become the coolest thing to post. Also, Instagram needs to turn likes into micro tips. That would be a big deal.
Braun: If you look at “#bitcoin” on Instagram, you’ll find an overwhelming amount of spam. Meanwhile, other social media platforms have thriving Bitcoin communities. How do you think we could form a more cohesive Bitcoin community on Instagram?
Wright: It’s tough. Right now, the amount of people posting on #bitcoin is quite low. As more Bitcoin-related content is generated, it’s just a matter of time before people start to gram it. I’ve seen more and more posts by people discovering some form of Bitcoin, whether it’s a random ATM or a merchant that accepts it. That’s very encouraging, because it shows that people are interested. Or even better still, I’ve seen a lot of abstract use of #bitcoin, like people using it on photos that have something to do with injustice, or some frustration, or even art & political memes. I think that once Bitcoin passes into the hip and cool phase, we’ll see an explosion of Instagram content that is related to it, and hopefully more quality posts on #bitcoin.
Braun: Any favorite Bitcoin-related Instagram accounts to recommend?
Wright: @coincafeinc rocks it! We also love @Bitcoin_Dad, but he hasn’t been active for a while. There’s @bitcoincoffee, @bitcoin_ninja, @uncoinventional, @bitcoin_bobby… actually quite a few! We try to follow as many as possible, so you could always browse our follows.
– Emily Braun