A Strange Tale of Teens and the Internet
Many of you follow me on Instagram, and since I've had an account there, it's been set to "public."
Firstly, because I really don't care who looks at the ten million pictures of my dog and my pony and the occasional pretty meal that I post. Really bad selfies with horses? I've got those, too. If you are, for some reason, enamored with viewing my photos, more power to you, random stranger.
Secondly, because I write a blog. On the internet. Anyone from a serial killer to my Great Aunt Ann can read this if they want to, and I don't care. It's out there for the world to see.
So, my Instagram account was public.
But then a strange thing happened. When I get a new Instagram follower, I usually quickly click over to their account to see if it's an actual fellow equestrian or dog-lover, or just some spammy account trying to get me to buy followers from them. It's sort of interesting to see who is interested in the endless dog-and-pony-show that is my Instagram.
I checked out my latest follower to find that this person had posted a photo on her account of my pony, and was trying to pass it off as hers. She was representing the picture of Dino as a pony that she owned.
While it was on some level strangely flattering that she thought Dino was nice enough to want to steal for herself, I felt extremely weird and little upset about the whole situation.
Then, another user and fan of the blog messaged me to let me know about this girl who was stealing my pictures - apparently she had been doing this for a while and the first account was shut down before I became aware of her. I messaged the offending party and asked her to take down the photo.
Thankfully, she promptly apologized and removed the photo. I thanked her, and went on my merry way.
This user, who was obviously a young girl, then asked me which of her horses was my "favorite." Since I don't spend all of my time on Instagram messaging teenagers, I didn't see the message until the next morning when I checked my phone, and found that she had also told me I was "being mean" for not answering her.
The other photos of "her" horses were also obviously stolen images. I responded by telling her that I am an adult with a life outside of the internet (shocking, I know) and that I only wanted to make her aware that stealing photos and lying about them being pictures of horses she owns is wrong. She again apologized and said that she would "never do it again." We'll see. I've since switched my Instagram account to "private."
Now, on one hand, I do relate to this horse-crazy teenage girl. At that age, my heart ached for horses. I cried if my once-weekly lesson was cancelled. I kept notebooks filled with names and descriptions of horses I dreamt that I would one day own, and imagined what my life would be like if it were full of horses. But my experience on Instagram crossed the line between innocent longing and behavior that negatively affects others. The teenage girl I interacted with was lying and stealing to create a more likeable, attractive version of herself, and while it upset me that she stole from me, it's more upsetting that she felt the need to do it in the first place.
My young readers, your worth is not measured in Instagram followers or Likes on Facebook. Creating a new persona on the internet from stolen pictures and videos will not make you cooler or more likeable. In fact, that kind of behavior is what will cause me to block and report your account and ignore your messages. The opinions of strangers on the internet really, truly, don't matter in the grand scheme of things.
Lying and stealing will also ruin your reputation. Once you are found out, people have a very, very hard time believing you, whether you are telling the truth or not.
Your life, as it is, is interesting and beautiful. The things that are worth sharing with the world are things you already own: the kind face of the lesson horse that carries you faithfully every week for an hour. The memories of your first show, first jump, first fall. Your barn friends who are just as horse-crazy as you are. There is no need to steal and lie and invent a more glamorous version of yourself.
You're just fine the way you are.