Researchers study effects of photo filters on social media

ASU students are applying filters to their photos before posting them on Instagram

La vie en VSCO. It’s no surprise that ASU students use filters and photoshop-like apps like Facetune on the photos they post on popular social media platforms like Instagram. With filtering being so common on social media, researchers from ASU's Yochan Lab have been studying the trend.

ASU graduate research associate Lydia Manikonda has been researching social media trends at ASU's Yochan Lab. She has done studies on what people post to Instagram, user activities, demographics and social network structure, fashion on Instagram and Twitter and differentiated content sharing behavior on social media. 

She originally started looking at the photo platform Flickr, but she moved to Instagram because not many researchers were focusing on it at the time.

Manikonda said that Instagram users are using the service to express themselves, adding that filtering photos leads to a higher chance of interaction online. 

“Our research suggests that users are appropriating the visual channel to communicate their emotions and feelings from the visual imagery,” Manikonda said.  “Along with this reason, existing research from another department recommends that photos with filters applied are more likely to be viewed and more likely to be commented on.”

Manikonda said that many images on social media that are more black and white are associated with darker themes, which is why vibrant, more colorful filters are used to promote happiness and good times.

"These platforms we are using are affecting our lives in a good way and bad way," Manikonda said. "One thing that I have learned from my research digging deep into these platforms is that people are able to openly share about their personal life."

In Manikonda's research, she found that people tend to use the same few filters that are the most popular on Instagram. 

Manikonda's advisor, Subbarao Kambhampati, a professor at the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering and the head of the Yochan lab, said that people believe they are in charge of what they are posting, but there is a lot of social engineering on social media.

"What we would like to do is find other ways in which platforms can push people toward certain kinds of presentations, other kinds of presentations," Kambhampati said. "Everybody thinks that they are completely in charge of what they’re posting, but for example, these filter things – we knew that there was a strong correlation between the popular filters and the order in which the filters were being put there, which sort of shows that social engineering is quite physical. As to how that whole thing goes would be much more interesting going forward."

Kambhampati compared advertisements on social media to repeating popular filters. He said that people do not typically know they want or need an item until they see the item pop up on their social media feeds, and then find these items appealing. This is reflected in reoccurring filters on peoples' posts, which makes users want to use the same filter on their photos to join the trend.

Beyond the Yochan Lab's research, Perri Collins, the social media specialist for the W. P. Carey School of Business, said she notices  that manipulating images is common in traditional media and it has bled over into social media.

She also said that the use of filters on social media helps with expression. 

“In the era of personal brand building, people want to show off their best selves,” Collins said. “Sometimes they use filters as a way to evoke a certain look and feel they think best represent them.”

Collins said it is easy to feel like image is everything and that there’s a certain image standards students have to live up to.

“Some people use Facetune and similar apps to brush up photos, remove blemishes and enhance colors, but too much photoshopping can be detrimental to one’s self-image,” Collins said. "Being more authentic in what we post will help us to have stronger connections with each other."


Reach the reporter at jlmyer10@asu.edu or follow @jessiemy94 on Twitter. 

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