Amelia Liana is not a household name, but nearly half a million Instagram users enjoy her breathtaking photos. The social media star posts impossibly great shots of famous landmarks and gorgeous scenes.
The only problem? Some of the shots really are impossible.
The Times and other news outlets published articles pointing out evidence of Photoshopping in Liana’s Instagram feed. The stories came on the heels of a growing number of critical comments from her followers, and the controversy isn’t disappearing anytime soon.
The tipping point came when Liana posted a photo that was missing a very important landmark.
The post appeared to show the Instagram star looking through a window at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Liana captioned the photo, “What a welcome to NYC #TopOfTheRock.”
Commenters pointed out that the NYC skyline was missing the Freedom Tower. The new World Trade Center was mostly completed by spring of 2013, yet it was nowhere to be seen in a photo from 2017. Another detail convinced her followers that the photo wasn’t just old, but stitched together from two separate photos.
At first glance, the window appears to show the reflection of Liana’s dress and arm. A more careful look shows that the “reflection” shows the wrong side of Liana’s body. Instead of seeing her watch band, we see a copy of her watch (with the opacity reduced to appear as a reflection).
The doctored reflection proves that the picturesque scene is really an edited collage of two photos. Other photos from the same time confirm that Liana was actually in NYC, but for an unknown reason, she chose to use a highly edited photograph to show the view from Midtown.
Who cares if social media influencers edit their photos?
Many readers will wonder what the big deal is. After all, ‘shopped photos are one of the most fun parts of the internet. However, when companies pay an influencer to advertise their products, the public expects more transparency.
The uproar highlights the divide between those who expect social media to show authentic personal photos and those who want to use the platforms to make money. When an influencer blends the two together, people get offended. A recent post by Liana that looks more like a yogurt advertisement than a vacation photo attracted the comment, “Why are your photos so fake. So pink! So Eww! So icky!!!”
Liana responded to the criticism with a blog post entitled “My Image Principles.”
In the post, she gives six principles that help her determine how much editing is acceptable. One of those principles reads in part:
“I like to develop my skills and may use all available techniques to enhance, sharpen or smarten my images. This may include improving the light, tidying the background and other enrichments, but always in a way that is representative to the true setting and always in a way that reflects my aesthetic.”
The wording gives her a considerable amount of wiggle room, but another one of her principles does not. Principle 2 says, “All my imagery is actually shot at the time in the location I specify.” That doesn’t mesh well with the fact that her Rockefeller Center photo had a four-year-old photo spliced with a more recent one.
Liana is almost certainly not breaking any laws, and for her hundreds of thousands of followers, she’s providing a stylized and breathtaking view of the world. To her critics, she’s cheapening the beauty of famous cities and landmarks by altering them from their natural state.
For the time being, Liana’s winning the battle, as she hasn’t lost many of her 500,000 followers.