How social media services manipulate .

Social media services use tricks to manipulate your behavior. One of the most powerful is to drive the obsession with getting more “Likes”.

500px is a picture sharing web site that uses tricks to inflate your “Likes” count to encourage paid memberships. The way their system works, new users post a few photos and are amazed at how quickly the seem to get liked and promoted in to their “Upcoming” and “Popular” lists.

I realized 500px had turned picture sharing into a contest to see how many likes your photos would receive and how quickly your photos rise to “Popular”. I saw oddities like accounts with a few not very good photos yet having tens of thousands of followers. And then noticing their followers had no photos or followers – sure signs of fake accounts.

I created a fake account and a really bad photo with intentionally messed up colors – and it quickly rose to the “Popular” list! The system seemed obviously rigged to make people feel good about their photos being seen and liked.


Last  year, I discontinued using 500 px and posted the above as my last photo.

The text that follows is the text I posted with my last image on 500px, which explains this in more detail.

The bottom line is that 500px uses many tricks and techniques to manipulate its own users.

Why I am leaving 500px

A week ago, I noticed some odd things about 500px that I found disturbing.

I noticed quite a few (in fact most) of the people showing tens of thousands of followers appear to have mostly fake followers. I was perplexed how it was that someone with just 70 to 100 nice but not great photos could have 30,000 followers. When I click on their followers list, almost all of their followers have zero followers of their own and have zero photos posted. These appear to be fake user accounts.

I saw this across the board on many 500px users with huge followings. Something is not right.

I created a fake 500px account and posted the photo shown in the thumbnail image here. It’s a stupid photo, with over saturated colors, intentionally making it stupid. I titled the photo “Fake waterfall and pond”. This stupid photo quickly made the “Popular” list.

Which is absurd and illustrates the silliness of 500px. Note the email message I received (captured in the photo here) encourages me to submit this to the “marketplace”. There is constant encouragement to submit photos to the “marketplace” for sale to others, no matter how stupid and fake the photo may be.

The “social numbers game” of achieving “Popular” is by design. Several years back the concept of “gamification” took hold. The basic idea is to create a sense of scoring based on performance – not that different than giving kids “gold stars”. Many adults find themselves caught up with “playing the game” and management research shows these systems can be effective at motivating workplace behaviors.

500px is set up as a gamified photo site. When users first post photos, they quickly see many “likes”, which encourages new (free trial account) users to register for a paid account. The system then rewards those who “play the game” by liking and following others, versus sharing quality photography, discussing and sharing with others, and learning from each other.

User psychology drives this and scoring higher in the game becomes the driving force. Excessive liking, following, and fake user accounts (happens on other social media all the time, too).

Most photos will only be viewed immediately after posting on 500px and are rarely viewed ever again. This “front loads” the appearance that 500px will give your photos lots of views – but all those views are only in the few days after posting.

We end up with a rather fake experience.

Another problem I noticed is that some of the accounts themselves are questionable. For the first two accounts having tens of thousands of followers that I checked, I used Google Image search to see if their photos existed elsewhere. For the first two, the photos were, in fact, stolen from private, professional photographer web sites. (This was not the case with all such accounts – but I did see it in a sample of 500px accounts with peculiarly large followings). A conspiracy theorist might suggest someone has created fake accounts with the intent of making individuals, or even 500px itself, look larger and more important than it might be.

Under the circumstances, the 500px experience is very fake when stupid photos labeled as fake quickly make it to the popular list, and when accounts with few photos appear to have tens of thousands of likely fake followers.

This is not for me.