The lesson: Question everything you see online.
Carolyn Stritch, 32, who runs The Slow Traveler Instagram account, faked a trip to Disneyland to prove a point about people's yearning for perfection.
In a post on her Instagram entitled "Why I hacked my own Instagram account," Stritch, who lives in the United Kingdom, says she was inspired to pull the fake Disney trip stunt after taking a selfie with the photo editing tool FaceApp.
FaceApp allows people to alter the appearance of their face and Stritch used the "Impression" filter on the app, which smoothed her complexion, eradicated all lines and marks on her face and even made her nose smaller. As an experiment, she uploaded the altered photo as a profile picture on Facebook and nobody questioned it, even though the photo didn't really look like her. Stritch says not even her own mother questioned it.
Emboldened by this, the freelance photographer and lifestyle blogger decided to do an experiment with her nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram and see if she could fool them into thinking she had taken a trip to Disneyland.
Using FaceApp and other photo editing software, Stritch fabricated a story about going to Disneyland for a perfect vacation for her 22nd birthday (a full decade younger than she actually is). She edited herself into photos of the amusement park and altered her appearance to appear younger.
Just like nobody questioned her Facebook profile picture, none of her followers questioned this trip, taking it at face value.
A big influence on her experiment was Will Storr's book, Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It's Doing To Us. In it, Storr talks about how everyone is pressured to by their "perfect selves" by what they see in advertising and on social media.
Stritch said she created a "perfect self" to go to California for her trip as a way to explore how she herself plays into this perceived pressure to be perfect. While she usually doesn't go so far as to alter her appearance and go on fake trips, the Instagramer said, she does regularly stage and edit photos for an appearance of perfection.
For example, she stages photos in her apartment by sitting beside windows and pretending to read when she usually wouldn't go anywhere near the windows (they are too drafty) and she often holds empty mugs to create the illusion that she is drinking coffee. Stritch said she also regularly edits out marks on the walls and other places to clean up the photos.
All is not what it seems.
Just like Stritch wants her followers to question everything they see online, we should also question what is presented to us as business people, especially if it has that sheen of carefully choreographed perfection.
I recall a couple of recent instances where I needed to question what I saw. The blog editor at one of the companies I co-founded was thrilled to receive a guest blog post to publish. Being a bit more skeptical about things than my editor, I had a look at this post. It seemed fine, at first; germane to our industry, relatively well-written, not many outside links.
But the first red flag for me was seeing that the writer claimed to work for a company with a website, yet the email came from a free, generic email account. The writer's name also did not give me any returns in a Google search that would indicate this person actually exists.
A couple of weeks later, we received another guest post, this time from a writer who actually had her own website and a photo attached showing her face. Well, it showed a face, anyway. The blog editor was once again excited until I pointed out that, again, the email came from a generic free account, the "writer's" website was actually just a content farm and a quick Google Image Search revealed the picture accompanying the email came from a Russian stock photo site.
Clearly, we were just being targeted by shady SEO companies trying to get backlinks for their clients. Why create fictitious people to do this, though? In the case of the latter, I can only assume they thought we would be more receptive to the post if it came from someone who looks like a stock model, who often give off that illusion of perfection.
Much like how Stritch encouraged her followers, I encouraged my blog editor to question everything online. In our current political climate, it's a lesson Instagram stars, business people and everyone else who uses the internet can use.