Every day, more than a hundred million posts are shared on Instagram alone. Included among all the (audio)visual items uploaded to this digital platform are any number of advertisements, informative articles by journalists and humorous memes, along with personal memories and snapshots such as selfies and photos with friends. These images can potentially be shared with people around the globe. Aside from sharing your own pictures, you can also absorb yourself in browsing through and consuming content posted by other people. But what traces do you leave behind you when you look at other people’s pictures, and what influence do these pictures have not only on your perception and self-image but also on your system of values and consumer behaviour? How can alternative narratives – images that do not conform to traditional norms – break through prevailing stereotypes and prompt new ways of thinking about this topic?

The ability to read and interpret images, or visual literacy as it is known, is more important today than ever. In order to understand content and the contexts in which it appears and to make informed decisions on the basis of this, we must learn to classify, decode and critically examine images. Using visual information autonomously requires engagement with and analysis of the social, political and technical mechanisms that are concealed behind the production and distribution of images and the consumption of content.

While there are certainly challenges involved in reading other people’s pictures, there are also a number of perils associated with producing, sharing and distributing personal content. These relate to questions of data protection, privacy, image rights and the right to one’s own image. Can we protect our content from misuse or exploitation by third parties?

Besides the inherent challenges and pitfalls, sharing content also has considerable potential. Using digital platforms is fun! Image-based online applications are full of possibilities and a rich and varied source of fascination. Digital communities are a valuable setting for dialogue and knowledge transfer, a place where like-minded people can get together and plan projects. So how do we make use of the potential and opportunities that social media offer? How do we want to present ourselves digitally, and what impact does this (self-)presentation have? How can our virtual identity propagate a new narrative and thus question – from a thoroughly activist position – physical, gender and sexual norms and point to alternatives?

The unit My Networked Images focuses on questions of (self-)presentation in digital space, privacy and (personal) image rights in a mix of workshops, events, blog posts and teaching material for schools. Our exploration of the topic includes discussion of the challenges of producing, sharing and consuming images, along with the many possibilities and new perspectives that this presents.