(On June 22, 2015, the DPRK enacted a country-wide ban on Instagram—previously available to a small segment of the country who could afford the $450 charge for two gigs of data—with some pointing to photographs of a hotel fire in Pyongyang, which appeared on the app and circulated widely in Western media but not in North Korean press, as the impetus for the block.)
Kuwayama likens his role at Instagram to creating “the photo agency of the future, a hive mind of eyes and ears around the world.” It certainly would not be the first social media giant to make a big impact in opening up the field of journalism to citizens around the world. Twitter served as an invaluable tool through which to watch the uprisings and revolutions that came to be known as the Arab Spring unfold across the Middle East and North Africa in late 2010 and into 2011 from the eyes of those on front lines too unstable for Western journalists to penetrate. But, Twitter traditionally being a text-based platform, its citizen reporting has most often found an audience with journalists, news organizations, and policy watchdogs. Images, however, break down language barriers and transcend geographic, economic, and political borders more easily—something no doubt at the forefront of Kuwayama’s and founder Kevin Systrom’s minds. (Systrom interned at the startup that eventually became Twitter, Odeo, in 2005.) As the image-sharing platform’s parent company, Facebook, makes progress in extending basic internet service to everyone on earth via its Internet.org initiative, these far-reaching corners of the world, and their communities, can share and consume stories using the most raw, universally understood, and now democratic language: photography.