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More NFT madness: Associated Press under fire for NFT of migrants at sea

Associates Press
A screenshot from a Tweet The Associated Press shared about selling a video of migrants as an NFT (Image credit: Associated Press / Twitter)

The Associated Press (AP) has come under fire for posting a tweet suggesting that it planned to sell an NFT depicting migrants drifting in an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean. Although the tweet was deleted shortly after it was posted, many people are angry that the not-for-profit organization had intended to make money through the misfortune of migrants.

On 24 February, The AP posted a tweet that said, “Tomorrow’s drop at noon EST on the AP Photography NFT Marketplace will feature video by @felipedana of migrants drifting in an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean”. This of course was instantly met with a response from angry Twitter, one of which coined it “poverty porn” while another posted “What a massive fail. An astonishing misstep from @AP”.

• Read more: How I sell my photographs as NFTs (opens in new tab)

Having been accused of monetizing despair and making profits from suffering, The Associated Press decided against selling the short video clip as an NFT and took to Discord to explain what had happened. Dwayne 

Desaulniers, the AP’s director of blockchain & data took full responsibility for the decision, commenting, “I’m pretty devastated that we seem to have damaged our work to take with our planned use of the rescue video”. He continued, “I’m the team member accountable for that decision”.

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The Associated Press first delved into the world of NFTs when it sold a series of ten artistic representations of some of its most famous images through the peer-to-peer marketplace, OpenSea. However, at the end of January 2022, it launched its own NFT  NFT marketplace (opens in new tab)  using the environmentally friendly blockchain, Polygon, and has since used it to sell press photos ranging from $300 to $1,499,000. This has been the first time the AP has faced criticism for planning to sell an NFT, but it’s not the first time that the ethics of an NFT sale have been questioned. 

In January 2022, photographer Faith West decided to sell unseen photos of Nirvana as NFTs (opens in new tab) through the Rarible marketplace. Furious fans once again took to Twitter to air their distaste and accused the photographer of doing something that would make Kurt Cobain turn in his grave. 

The chat on Discord acted as a space for people to ask Associated Press about its planned action to sell the NFT, who would receive the profits and whether the photographer was aware of the sale. A staff member said, “AP is a non-profit. All the proceeds that the AP make go back into funding our journalism. A portion also goes directly to the photographers who receive a % of any primary and future sales… We shared the Tweet before fully telling the story behind the video to give it proper context. This is something we will address in the future”.

While this may have been a tasteless accident by Associated Press it does open up the question: what is appropriate to sell as an NFT and what isn’t? News agencies are responsible for keeping people up to date with things happening in the world, but that doesn't mean they should be able to make money from the suffering people they're reporting on. 

Read more:

What are NFTs and can photographers make money selling them? (opens in new tab)
Restoring faith in photojournalism - new tech lets readers check a photo's details (opens in new tab)
15 best new photography books (opens in new tab)

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Hannah Rooke
Hannah Rooke

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.