“1.8 billion photos shared per day”[i]

The aim of the ‘Picturing the Social’ project is to look at various forms of image sharing on social media, and as part of this, ‘Imaging Sheffield’ takes a specific look at the sharing practices that involve images of Sheffield. Although ‘image sharing’ might seem like a fairly straightforward concept – you have an image, and you circulate it in some way – it is important that I begin to unpack some of the differences between different types of sharing that I will be considering. After all, my aim is not to focus on bunching practices of image sharing together – such as in the figure quoted above – but rather to tease them apart and see what different practices do.

Uploading Content

Images are uploaded to a personal page or stream, such as Instagram, a Facebook album or personal Flickr page. The image remains connected to the user’s other images, but could also be searched for if tagged and made public. Other popular sites for uploading personal images include Photobucket, Shutterfly and Fotolog.

Posting Content

A photograph is selected and posted to a public page, such as a Facebook group or themed Flickr page. The image is then juxtaposed with other users’ images. The Facebook group I am planning to research, Pictures of Sheffield Old and New, is an example of this kind of sharing context.

Sending Content

Images are sent to specific individuals, rather than a wider audience, using email, text or apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp.

Reposting Content

Images are reposted outside of their original context, either by linking or by saving and uploading again. This can either be from an individual, another media outlet, an archive such as the Picture Sheffield website, or an undetermined source. Popular sites for reposting content include imgur and Pinterest.

Hosting content on a specific theme, taken by a variety of subjects

The Picture Sheffield website hosts historical images of Sheffield that have either been digitised from the local studies collection, or submitted by members of the public. This is different from simply ‘posting content’, as the collection is curated and managed by a select number of individuals. Another example of this is the local council’s small selection of Sheffield themed images that has been made freely available for public use.

Besides these practices that constitute fairly obvious forms of image sharing, I would also suggest that some other affiliated activities also be considered, in terms of their role in prompting, shaping and enabling sharing.

Discussing and Evaluating Images

It might not seem that talking about photographs is not strictly a factor in image sharing, but I would argue that reception is an important factor in prompting and interpreting image sharing. Other forms of reception also include ‘liking’ or reposting an image, or following the user.

Making Copies

Through making screenshots or saving images by right clicking, the potential for future acts of sharing images is created – even if the site does not specifically allow it – which extends the notion of ‘reposting content’ discussed above. Some of my earlier posts have touched on the politics of this kind of data ownership and circulation, in which I argued that saving images for research purposes must be conducted in an ethical manner, in order to avoid undermining the subject’s privacy.

So, just from these few brief notes, it becomes evident that ‘sharing photos on social media’ is far from being a homogenous activity. Rather, sharing is achieved through using various platforms, for the benefit of different scales of audience, and in ways that generate meaning through juxtaposition and the formation of a personal creative style.


[i] http://tech.firstpost.com/news-analysis/now-upload-share-1-8-billion-photos-everyday-meeker-report-224688.html



‘Picturing the Social: Transforming our Understanding of Images in Social Media and Big Data research’ is an 18-month research project that started in September 2014 and is based at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. It is funded through an ESRC’s Transformative Research grant and is focused on transforming the social science research landscape by carving out a more central place for image research within the emerging fields of social media and Big Data research. The project aims to better understand the huge volumes of images that are now routinely shared on social media and what this means for society. This project involves an interdisciplinary team of seven researchers from four universities as well as industry with expertise in: Media and Communication Studies (Farida Vis and Anne Burns, University of Sheffield), Visual Culture (Simon Faulkner and Jim Aulich, Manchester School of Art), Software Studies and Sociology (Olga Goriunova, Warwick University), Computer and Information Science (Francesco D’Orazio, Pulsar and Mike Thelwall, University of Wolverhampton). The project is part of the Visual Social Media Lab.