People can get pretty funny on social media, especially with what large numbers of them start to misinterpret and take seriously.
Photographer Jan Vorster from South Africa discovered exactly this in what for him might have been the most surprising way possible.
One day he started receiving messages from strangers asking about aliens in his photos and if the beach where he’d taken these recent shots was “safe”.
Taken slightly aback by these questions, he quickly realized that recent photos he’d posted to social media of dead, stiff aloe vera plants placed upside down in sea-washed beach sand were what was causing the weirdness.
A quick look at the cleverly composed photos does indeed give off a strange sort of Lovecraft/sci-fi vibe, but this apprently wasn’t Vorster’s intention.
In comments that he made to PetaPixel, Vorster explained that he used a Nikon D7100 with a Nikkor 18-140mm lens to shoot the strange compositions with the dried, spindly plant leaves.
He captured the shots right at sunset while walking along Still Bay East beach. Naturally, this only added to their creepy look along the dusky shore.
According to Vorster, “I post it on my Facebook page and two Facebook communities from Still Bay and on another South African Facebook Community… From there it just spread,”
The photos were later picked up by a number of other Facebook pages in posts that falsely claimed the objects as “sea spiders”. That’s when things got even more viral.
On these Facebook pages, the relabeled post with the images managed to snowball its way into viral fame with more than 22,000 comments and over 52,000 shares.
The photographer says that his original intention was to “use this as a metaphor for how people see these plants as aliens, but we are actually the two-legged aliens messing up their world. That was the idea.”
The reaction by the public surprised him however when instead of just having fun with the photos, some people took them seriously and in a few cases, were “extremely serious.”
Vorster even had people asking about when the creatures emerged, if it was only at night or not according to comments he made to the site Lad Bible.
He began receiving messages from people asking if the water in the bay was safe to enter and some people who found the photos even sent copies of them off to an environmental scientist.
The scientist of course quickly confirmed that these were just upside-down plants and not aliens from another world, or the sea.
Vorster himself doesn’t explicitly clarify if he intended the alien metaphor for the photos. He does however mention “I learned a lot about social media. It’s [just] a picture, I didn’t expect this to happen and for the reaction to be so big,”
He also discovered a bit about random social media rage, saying, “[Some people said] that I misled them, and that I should be crucified for that. But lots of people have had a lot of fun.”
Unfazed, Vorster promises to continue taking unique photos for the sake of raising awareness about environmental issues in the bay. His “sea spider” shots and other work can be found on his Facebook and Instagram pages.