I Moaned About VERO on Twitter, So the Billionaire Founder Rang Me up to Ask What They Can Do Better

I Moaned About VERO on Twitter, So the Billionaire Founder Rang Me up to Ask What They Can Do Better

The other morning I posted an unnecessarily snarky tweet about VERO and a breach of my copyright. That afternoon, I found myself on an hour-long Zoom call with founder CEO Ayman Hariri after he got in touch to discuss what VERO can do to improve.

I’ve written about social media freebooting extensively in the past (1, 2). So-called feature accounts spring up, spreading community vibes, garnering an audience of tens if not hundreds of thousands, only to pivot to selling dropship t-shirts and novelty mugs. Others build followers and then start charging money for featured posts while touting for sponsored posts. The vast majority of these feature accounts post people’s artwork without permission, despite this being against any platform’s terms and conditions — and, let’s not forget, unlawful. It’s a quick way to make easy money from other people’s creativity.

On the left, my Explore page where four of the first 11 posts are feature accounts. On the right, a feature account that takes payments for sharing posts.

At the same time, Instagram and other platform benefits massively, actively encouraging this large-scale copyright infringement by featuring these accounts on the Explore page, and dropping them into people’s "you might also like this" feeds. Instagram must know that these practices are wrong but, given that feature posts account for hundreds of millions of post views each day — and therefore generate vast advertising revenue — it appears to be a policy decision, supported by the legal immunity afforded to them under the DMCA.

Appropriation Should Not Be Normal

For me, Instagram has normalized a culture of appropriation, both casual and blatant, to the point that artists blindly accept these breaches of copyright as they extend their reach, bagging them more followers in the ongoing popularity contest that is social media. I’m one of the few photographers that doesn’t appreciate this new normal, as it frustrates me to see my work enriching others while leaving me with nothing.

At an individual level, it’s small fry — a fraction of a penny in ad revenue that should go to me, not to Instagram. However, at a global level, it’s damaging to artists as, cumulatively, the value inherent in our art is extracted and diverted to Mark Zuckerberg’s immense coffers instead. We’ve accepted this because we’ve been conditioned to compete for attention rather than work as a collective.

VERO: A Different Approach

VERO has been a breath of fresh air, offering a platform that fixes many of the issues that Instagram users have been complaining about for almost a decade. High-resolution images, a chronological feed, more control over sharing, the ability to share different types of content, no ads, only content from people you want to see, and a desktop app. VERO has seen a surge in interest in recent months as Instagram has continued to ostracize photographers and influencers have been gushing about VERO’s superiority.

Like many photographers, I opened an account more than five years ago and lost interest before then rediscovering it in recent months. I don’t put a lot of effort into sharing on social media, but I like the VERO experience, and it feels like a genuine competitor to Instagram. Unlike many other Instagram alternatives that have come and gone, it’s not just for photographers, though photography is at the forefront.

A few days ago, I logged on and discovered an unexpected number of notifications: a "hub" account (as VERO refers to them) had reposted one of my photographs, crediting me and congratulating me on my work. The relentless cynic inside of me sighed and assumed that freebooting had taken next to no time to arrive on VERO, triggering my annoyance. Like every good millennial, I immediately turned to Twitter to voice my disgust and tagged VERO’s account. In my defense, countless people moan at social media companies every day and are met by resounding silence. I have next to no clout, so I figured I was just venting my frustration into the void, maybe prompting a few sympathetic replies to soothe my bad mood.

My unnecessarily snarky tweet triggered a back-and-forth with a couple of photographers with a few trolls jumping on board to inform me that I’m wrong before being soundly schooled by the ridiculously knowledgeable law student and photographer Martin McNeil. What I didn’t expect was a response from Ayman Hariri, the co-founder and CEO of VERO, offering to contact the hub account on my behalf and ask for the post to be removed. A constructive discussion ensued and, to my even greater surprise, Hariri then asked if we could continue on Zoom.

A Zoom Call With the Boss

Four of us — myself, Ayman Hariri, Martin McNeil, and VERO’s Head of Community Tom Hodgson — chatted for an hour, and it would have continued had I not cut it short due to other commitments. I’m aware that I’m in the minority when it comes to having my work posted without my permission and, from what we discussed, it’s apparent that VERO is keen to find a way to give creatives control over their content without impacting people’s desire to share work and have their work shared. Feature accounts are popular for a reason, offering ground-up, community-driven curation of encountered content rather than top-down, algorithm-fed discovery feeds controlled by the platform. As Hariri pointed out, VERO is ad-free — and has stated its commitment to remaining ad-free — so these feature accounts are not generating ad revenue for the platform, as is the case with Instagram.

I put forward my own thoughts on how artists can feel that they have more control, such as the option to mark an image as being available for reposting, or a system of reposting that is built into the app, effectively co-publishing the post, not too dissimilar to Tumblr. No doubt, VERO has pondered these options, and Hariri made it clear that he was wary of adding complexity to a social app that depends on simplicity. We seemed to differ in opinion here, but I’ve not just plowed literally tens of millions of dollars into my own Instagram alternative and, not having the same depth of knowledge, there are likely a host of implications that I’ve not thought through. Maybe my ideas are rubbish. We shall see.

My feed on the rather beautiful VERO desktop app, currently in beta.

A chunk of the discussion was centered around the technological solutions that would give artists more control, with McNeil citing the success of YouTube’s ContentID system — notably, something that it was forced to implement in order to avoid chaos, not a feature that it established out of a noble desire to protect creators (in 2007, Google faced a Federal court claim brought by Viacom who sought $1 billion in damages for secondary infringement, a case that ran for seven years and resulted in an out-of-court settlement. The lawsuit prompted Google to begin work that same year on what would become the ContentID system).

Solutions are out there — Google’s own reverse image search is evidence enough — and McNeil has been part of a collective of musicians, authors, illustrators, and photographers who have been consulted by Meta and others on the topic in ongoing talks. I’ve discussed previously the potential of technology such as that provided by French company IMATAG. None of these will resolve freebooting or intellectual property theft completely, but that’s not a reason to ignore it.

If You Care About Social Media, You Should Care About VERO

There are no quick fixes and our conversation was never going to find any, but the discussion felt productive, and it was refreshing to be able to engage, not just with the heads of a social media company, but with people who appear to be genuinely interested in taking our views on board and working to create a platform that is the best possible version of what it can be. Hariri came across as authentic and deeply invested, not just financially, but in establishing VERO as a social media app that respects its users and their content.

In Zuckerberg, we have a billionaire that is busy destroying his share price thanks to an obsession with technology that even his employees believe is pointless, while his chief underling tells photographers: “Thanks for your help now jog along." In Hariri, we have a billionaire that loves photography and who has invested a vast sum of money gambling on an idea — an alternative to Instagram — that according to precedent, is destined to fail. I, for one, hope that it doesn’t.

I don’t know whether VERO can find a solution to freebooting, but in our conversation, its intentions seem clear. We need a new normal when it comes to social media, and VERO appears determined to provide it.

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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Great story Andy. I suspect they became aware of your editorial visibility and that was the inspiration for the chat. But it's still heartening that there may be a viable IG alternative that's starting to mature.

I’m sick of being a resource for billionaires to make money off of. Vero’s no exception.

We love this post! We would like to post this on our website, social media and in occasional print ads with a small line credit to you and fstoppers. To agree to this please respond with #hashtagcopyrightforsuckers and we promise to not follow through on anything mentioned above.

Thanks for your fight!

Vero is just too difficult to navigate, but maybe I'm too old for it.

I don't know, I haven't tried. Where you are telling some truth, is regarding age.I went on the site and checked their mission link. I don't think there may be one single person showing on that reel that appears to be even close to be 30. Shark Tank would say, and for that reason, I'm out. Well, I'm actually not decided yet on that, but that is an obstacle that makes me say that for now, lets check this app another time.

Seems like it would be easy to write code to make it so, as a Vero user, you could universally "opt in" to having all of your content be "sharable" or "re-postable".

And for those who do not "opt in", when someone goes to re-share your content, you would automatically receive a message asking permission for a one-time re-share. Sharing wouldn't be possible until you grant permission by simply clicking "I agree" or "yes".

This would NOT make the platform more complex or difficult to use. It would be super easy and simple and quick, with everything automated and re-posting blocked by the software until permission was received by the original creator.

Hopefully, the vast majority of users would just "opt in" right from the start, so a crapton of re-sharing would be possible without any need to specifically ask permission. Kinda like the way almost everybody who uses Flickr opts in to the Creative Commons that they have set up.

They only way is to use image matching software which will just be too expensive to do. Stopping a simple screen crab and repost is almost impossible to stop..


Mr Drizz,

"too expensive"? Really? What part of "billionaire" don't you understand? lol


Many thanks Andy for an extremely interesting take on Vero and your initial observations and doubts. I left Insta three months ago because it wasn't giving me anything... it just is not a place I want to be. I wasn't looking for alternatives until I stumbled upon Grainery which made me realise there's another world out there. Grainery is just so simple and answers a need. There are foibles and hiccups, but... it will get there, I hope.
Then I found Vero and started to look first of all at the Youtube videos knocking the platform in what I considered to be an unnecessarily aggressive way at times, downright abusive... and that convinced me that if it was gaining such an extreme response it was probably worth taking a look at what people were saying from the other side. Most of those made me aware it could be the type of platform that would more suit my interests and the things that I didn't like about Insta, bots, ads, reels, an algorithm that seems to separate rather than draw together, ridiculous levels of censorship, shadow banning.... weren't part of the Vero dynamic.
One aspect that was clear in what the writer here mentions is about the willingness to listen, develop, adjust, improve and to look for answers. That is sadly lacking on Instagram. Things such as bots can and should ousted easily, stolen identities should be a priority for Instagram, but it's not, shadow bans can destroy careers. Meta is aware of that yet does nothing.
I have joined Vero, just a few days ago. Yes, it is a little strange to use and difficult to find my way around, but I also learned to drive on different sides of the road, I am a Window user but I can also use a Mac... we adapt... that is what we also do, and we learn, experiment, discover new things. I am sure the same thing will happen here. Will I like it? I have no idea but it looks promising. And interesting. And that is good.
Insta? Well, I had my time there and now, with distance, I can see a lot of that was time badly spent and towards the end, wasted. I'm not getting into anything like that again.

Vero requires a telephone number to sign up, so they can send you their verification code. I don't use phones, why isn't email enough for this? I guess there won't be a Vero for Deaf photogs like me.


The fact that a phone is REQUIRED is suspicious to me. I can't help but to think that there is some financial motivation for VERO to have a phone number for every member. Not that they would sell your number outright to a telemarketing company, but there are other ways that corporations can benefit from having your phone.