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Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

Facebook Dislikes the Visibility of People With Addiction


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“Sonya, Hunts Point, Bronx,” by Chris Arnade Photo via

Chris Arnade, 48, is a New York City photographer whose mission, like many artists’, is to make the invisible visible. He photographs people who are homeless, people who are addicted and people who sell sex to survive. Their marginal existence on the street reminds us of the brutality of our society. Arnade’s photos don’t portray his subjects as abject victims. They are survivors, and in their willingness to show their forthright faces and stories to the public they express pride and defiance.

Arnade has been posting his photos of these survivors on Facebook (the page is called Chris Arnade Photography) for three years. This has increased his own visibility as a photographer—he and his work have been covered by The New York Times, Scientific American, Gothamist and others. It has also created a cyber community in which his subjects and his 45,000-plus followers can have at least minimal interaction.

“Having a Facebook page addressed the very issue I wanted to address: allowing people to see a part of society that most of the media, and most of us, ignore,” Arnade writes in an angry column in the Guardian today. “This was especially exciting. My work is not pretty. My posts are not pretty. They are often very graphic and depressing. They are stories of and by people who rarely get heard.”

Arnade’s Facebook community was growing until recently. Last year, after Facebook went public, it instituted a new policy intended to poke users into paying for visibility: Now, the more “likes,” “shares” and comments a post receives, the more newsfeed prominence it gets—a self-reinforcing process. Posts that cannot compete—and do not pay up—disappear from the timeline with dispatch. As a result the average number of views for a photo on Arnade’s site has fallen by 60%.

“Ugly, raw stuff, which is most of life (which is what I try to show people), will continue to go unseen on Facebook, just as it is invisible to most comfortable people in real life,” Arnade writes. “Ugly raw stuff is hard to ‘like.’ Ugly raw stuff doesn’t have money. It’s why most people walk right past the people whose stories I try to tell.”

Arnade linked to his Guardian column on his Facebook page. At 11 am, the post had received over 750 likes and over 250 shares. Check it out. You might even be moved to strike a blow—with a single keystroke—for the visibility of people with addiction.