Wanted: Anonymous Selfies

Behold @wrongeye4ever, the anti-instagram account that’s getting turned into a book.

by Annie Armstrong
Jan 26 2020, 10:37am

At first glance @wrongeye4ever looks like a bot account. A really hip bot, but a bot nonetheless. It doesn’t have a notable amount of followers, the photos on the page are all selfies that have that slight blur of the iPhone’s front-facing camera, and the captions are so nonsensical that it’s alienating. But, oh wait, in the background of one of these selfies, is that Ryan McGinley? Also, why are all these famous photographers liking these nebulous photos?

Welcome to Wrong Eye, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. For the past five years, this account has been posting “anonymous selfies” (oxymoronic, I know, but I’ll get to that) sent to them by anyone and everyone from DJ Khaled to your mom’s next door neighbor back in Wisconsin.

“It’s kind of the antithesis of social media,” said the founder of the account, New York-based actor Sara Apple Maliki. “I haven’t curated this so that I can get people to follow it.”

The concept behind it is so simple it’s almost confusing. Maliki democratically posts every selfie (barring overly lewd or violent ones) that get sent to her, with the goal of wanting to “validate people who maybe don’t feel that important.” By not giving any account provenance over another and by emphatically not tagging the sender, the account becomes non-hierarchical. She started the account five years ago, and at its peak, Wrong Eye had over 27K followers. Right now it boasts 32 posts and 429 followers, because it keeps getting deleted. Maliki isn't sure why.

“It’s a really interesting use of Instagram,” famed street photographer Daniel Arnold explained to me. “An interesting exploitation of phone loneliness.”

In its fifth iteration, Maliki is set to turn the account into a book, to be published by Périphérie Books, thus immortalizing what Instagram has the power to delete.

“The most disappointing thing about getting deleted is that I have a lot of my writing on there, and I can’t get it back.” Maliki’s captions are all written by her, and range from humorous to unsettling: a recent post of someone posing in their mirror, underwear clad, read, “it’s a good sign if your manager is playing golf,” another of a child picking his nose reads, “others are at least more stable.”

Maliki often gets messages from those who have had their photo posted that it was a serious aid to their self-esteem, as they get posted next to famous faces. Famous names like Julia Fox, Mary Rosenberger, Matty Matheson, Ruby Aldridge, and yeah, DJ Khaled, are among those who have contributed to the account, though you may not be able to pick out all of their photos--many pictures are of an elbow, a fragment of a jawline, a distorted reflection in a mirror. Hence, the anonymous selfie.

“What was cool about Instagram early on,” Maliki continued, “Before it was just a way to shop and self-promote, was that you could find people whose aesthetics you liked, and then chances are you’d have something in common to talk about.” Many who post to the account have told her that they’ve made friends through its community, and Maliki herself even met her fiancé through the account.

“It started out just with me and my girlfriends sharing nudes with each other,” Maliki explained. “There were certain photos we’d take and feel proud and kind of want some validation, but you don’t want to send it to some guy. So I turned those photos into an account.”

The account has developed a cult-level of notoriety. Maliki describes a recent visit to Los Angeles, where she was approached by a fan of the account “as though I was like, Brad Pitt or something.”

I’ve followed the account for the last three or four years, and I'm not quite sure how I found it in the first place. When the posts crop up on my feed, the feeling is akin to turning over a stone to find all the raw, damp, earth and bugs clinging to it underneath. I recently found my own contribution to the page on the site—my own image—posted consensually of course, but with no control of how, where, when, and with what caption, it felt deliciously embarrassing. Kind of like, oh yeah, I’m one of those worms under the rock too.

“People like it because they can rubberneck and say, ‘This is bizarre,’” Maliki indulged. “They like to not know what’s going on.”

Aside from the positive mission of the account, the photos viewed in tandem have a certain dynamism once you get familiarized with the concept. The weirdness of our need to capture photos of ourselves is reflected back to us, but for once, with no judgmental look-at-what-social-media-is-doing-to-society message attached. There’s almost nothing more specific to our time than this tic-like need to self-preserve, as well as the desire for the eyes of an anonymous online audience. Wrong Eye won’t judge you for indulging those impulses, and will even elevate your efforts into art. The account is a testimony to the abject beauty in a hastily snapped bathroom pic, especially one that is intended for the eyes of people you don’t actually know.

“I’m an actor and I love human beings and I love human behavior,” Maliki concluded. “Watching this validation culture form in front of my eyes has been so fascinating.”