Instagram Is Under Fire, Literally

June 22, 2015

4:14 pm

According to Eric Talmadge, Pyongyang Bureau Chief for The AP, North Korea has banned Instagram, a leading online photo sharing utility.

Pictures don’t lie, but despotic, authoritarian regimes who blacklist photographs do.

When a tragic fire engulfed the famed Koryo Hotel in central Pyongyang, news of the inferno was not widely reported, yet tourists became news hounds and uploaded the happenings to Instagram. It was an immediate response and a momentous reminder that a single picture has the potential to share more than a thousand printed words; the response from tourists represented and empowered the principles of free speech.

Created just five years ago by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and now owned by Facebook, Instagram is expected to soar past 100 million users in the U.S. by 2018. It is relevant and representative of the foundation of the United States; indeed, it could be argued that our Constitution foreshadowed Instagram’s shared commandment prohibiting barriers to exercise free speech through pictures.

Popular photo-sharing technology, which includes the new Google Photos, has become the modernized path to replace canisters of venerable Kodak film to memorialize events; its impact – beyond just pictures of the food you ate last evening – has eclipsed other media. It even shares pictures of news events – like that of a horrific hotel fire in North Korea that would not have been widely reported otherwise.

We as a nation cannot underscore the importance of all photo-sharing services to be free, open and accessible. When the news like the reported ban on Instagram occurs – arguably underpinning our democratic ideals –  it is time to act. Immediately. Decisively.

Pictures matter.  The actions by North Korea must ignite swift engagement from every other executive in the photo imaging industry to support Instagram. All users who enjoy the popular photo-sharing services need to engage and speak up, too. It is time for everyone who uses Instagram – 70 percent of whom are from outside the U.S. – to instantly-gram your voice and launch a pro-consumer, pro-democracy advocacy campaign.

How can you get involved?

  1. Use #SupportInstagram as a hashtag when posting supportive messages to keep photo-sharing free from censorship.
  2. Along with recent digital photographs, rediscover decades’ past analog pictures and 35mm slides you many have from travels to the free nation of South Korea. Post those to Instagram and include #SupportInstagram. One picture at a time, we can provoke the inquisitive citizens of North Korea to distinguish between the cheerless reality of their dictatorial governance and the beautiful pictures of a free world on their southern boarder and beyond.
  3. Get involved. Follow this breaking news story. Engage with reporters and the people following your social media soapbox.

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As a graduate from the Marshall School of Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, Mitch Goldstone is a longtime leader in the photo imaging industry and co-founder of, the Ecommerce photo digitization service which has scanned more than a quarter billion pictures

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