Vero: Hero to Zero
Two weeks ago, something strange started to appear on my Instagram feed. In amongst the food art, landscapes and hedgehogs in hats (don’t judge), were ‘Join Me’ images from what appeared to be a new social media platform. These were typically accompanied by a caption, explaining the user’s frustration with Instagram and Facebook, and an exhortation to join a new social media promised land. Even stranger, when I went to retrieve these images today for this very blog, they had all vanished. Welcome to the world of Vero, probably the fastest flash-in-the-pan social media storm yet.
Vero, which takes its name from ‘truth’ in Esperanto, is probably the first social media platform to launch with a manifesto. It’s stated aims were laudable – an image and video-friendly interface which reintroduced the chronological feed which has fallen out of favour elsewhere, easy privacy controls and no advertisers. To fund the platform, users would pay a small monthly subscription, however the first million sign-ups would receive free accounts for life. Could these free life accounts eventually attract the same desire as a Nandos black card?
Vero’s initial popularity came from a seemingly small group of users, cosplayers. The Cosplay community had been vocal about their frustrations with Instagram’s censorship policies, and embraced the prospect of a new image-based social network, which also offered the ability to zoom in on pictures and really capture the detail on that Arya Stark sword. As the Cosplayers went, so went the tattoo artists, graphic designers, photographers, and, eventually, the ‘influencers’. This influx of creative folk, coupled with the false time pressure to be one of the first million (Vero have since extended this offer to all new sign-ups for an indefinite period), gave rise to a social media mania of epic proportion.
However, the backlash was almost instant. No sooner had a wave of new users hit ‘sign-up’ than reports started to circulate online about the less-than-ideal background of the owners; co-founder Ayman Hariri was formerly the Deputy CEO of construction firm Saudi Oger, who failed to pay thousands of migrant workers in 2016. The sudden explosion of users also seemed to overload the app, with users reporting timeouts, missing data and at one point not being able to log in at all. Finally, users that decided to delete their account quickly found out that this was not so easy; account deletion required a request, which would then be reviewed by Vero staff with no guarantee of removal. Within a couple of days, #DeleteVero was trending on Twitter. Oh dear.
Vero may have been a one-week wonder, but the fervor with which it was adopted tells you something about the social media landscape in 2018. A growing frustration with networks prioritising advertising content over meaningful interaction, coupled with a greater understanding of the effects of social media on mental health have brought us to a critical point. In fact, at the end of last year, Facebook’s user base in the US and Canada fell marginally, for the first time ever. Vero might not have been the answer, but Facebook et al should be learning from how quickly we were willing to jump ship.