Images: The New Global Language of the Internet

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Marne Levine is Chief Operating Officer of Instagram, where she is responsible for helping to scale the company’s operations globally and oversees Instagram’s business operations, including monetization, partnerships, marketing, business development, policy, community operations, communications, recruiting, and human resources. She joined Instagram from Facebook, where she served as the company’s Vice President of Global Public Policy from 2010 to 2014. Before joining Facebook, she served as Chief of Staff of the National Economic Council (NEC) at the White House and Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy for the Obama Administration.

Marne Levine talked at DLD about how images are changing our language. Even the Oxford Dictionary chose an emoji as word of the year in 2015. The Oxford Dictionary was always aware of society's change, in 2005 podcast and in 2013 selfie were words of the year. But for the first time ever, in 2015 not a word was named as word of the year, it was the image of "The Face With Tears Of Joy". It clearly showed us the images are becoming our new words for a global language everyone will understand. It's a demonstration of how the way of wold's communication is changing at the moment.

DLD16 Conference Munich - "The NEXT! NEXT" - January 17-19, 2016

Instagram is part of this movement. Named by its founders as a combination of instant and telegram, Instagram shows us that images are a global medium to communicate feelings and experience the world. Images can travel far and touch our hearts and transform themselves into a language we all are able to speak and understand.

Images are also enabling us to be historians. We all have a camera in our pocket to create images, cover different stories. Iconic photos, e.g. Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl in a refugee camp will still bring us together, but now we are able to get assets from various sources. Years ago it might be only one photo, now we can see so many different stories, e.g. from refugees coming to Europe. These images are able to create a greater understanding and hopefully motivate to act. We are entering a new age of visual activism, Marne said on stage. A wonderful example is Katie Meyler, who was named Time's Person of the Year in 2014 ( On her instagram account @katiemeyler she showed the world Liberia's people fighting against Ebola and against each other. She captured the human face on human tragedy to motivate people to act.

Images are opening new doors to old industries - as Helen demonstrated with her Instagram account @unskilledworker. Helen started painting 5 years ago after diagnosed breast cancer. She uploaded her paintings on instagram and attracted people. Today she has more than 200k fans on Instagram and some of her paintings are exposed at Gucci's headquarters. She is now not only an inspired artist, she is an artist. Another nice example how images are changing old industries is fashion. Fashion shows like New York Fashion Week are often invitation-only events and we will never sit in front row to see the newest creations of designers. But in 2015, 44 millions people engaged with the New York Fashion Week only on Instagram. The new world of visual language gave those people an access to a world they might never would see in their life.

Images also changing the way businesses communicate with us. Advertising is changing. But also how to create business itself. A 26-year-old girl from Dubai started to create burgers. She uploaded the different creations, e.g. with falafel, to her Instagram account. Hungry customers were sitting in front of her photostream. Now @she_burger is a delivery service. It definitely has changed how business is created.

Mark Zuckerberg said last year: Storytelling is getting richer - and yes, we can see the line between foto and video is blurring. That's why Instagram introduced "Boomerang", an app for small loops, which hits No 1 in App Stores in more than 70 countries. But how can we speak this new global language? Just be yourself, Marne suggested. Find your visual voice even if you are a "terrible photographer" like Marne (please feel free to visit her Instagram account @marne_levine) described herself. She first felt a high pressure on herself being creative while start working at Instagram. She was imitating others but people liked more her authentic photos, e.g. teens. They smelled those imitating photos miles away, because they are native speaker of the new global language. Everyone can learn it, we have the capacity to understand this new language and to communicate our visions, missions and our world around us like Helen and all the others, Marne mentioned in her talk, to create a better world.