The AP thought selling an NFT of migrants in crisis would be just fine

The Associated Press has since removed the NFT and its announcement tweet.

It’s no secret, at this point, that the NFT marketplace is chock full of scams and generally offensive imagery. The vast majority of these unsavory NFT listings come from small collectives or individuals you’ve never heard of. They slide under the radar until someone catches them in the NFT throng and brings them to the public’s attention, usually on Twitter.

The Associated Press broke out of this mold Thursday evening by tweeting about its offensive NFT for all to see. The NFT, which @AssociatedPress previewed in GIF form, depicts an overcrowded boat filled with migrants.

The now-deleted tweet in question.Twitter / AP / Wayback Machine

The video, captured by AP photographer Felipe Dana, is exactly what the nonprofit news agency promised: A skinny white boat, carrying so many lifejacket-clad people that it appears some might just fall off, drifts on calm Mediterranean waters. In other words, the AP took a moment that, for those on the boat, is supremely dangerous and terrifying — and it turned it into a commodity.

As you might expect, the AP has since deleted the tweet and removed the video from auction.

A poor choice — The ethics of photojournalism is a touchy subject. It always will be. Choosing to document anything and everything newsworthy — up to and including a person’s most traumatic moments — will always spur intense debate.

But Twitter users were almost unilaterally against the migrant NFT. The most obvious reason for this is the video itself; in any context, many would find it somewhat upsetting.

Then there’s the timing. The AP tweeted about this NFT just as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced thousands upon thousands of people to flee their homes. Current estimates say more than 100,000 Ukrainians have already been displaced by the invasion; that number could soon number in the millions. So yeah, the overflowing boat of migrants is particularly touchy right now.

The AP had removed the tweet — and the NFT from auction — just an hour after its posting, calling it a “poor choice of imagery.” The agency acknowledged its mistake and promised that its primary focus remains “is to inform the world with accurate, unbiased journalism.”

NFT chaos — And then there’s the NFT factor, which has become increasingly polarizing over the last six months or so. Selling the video in any form would’ve spurred debate; selling it as an NFT ensured almost certain blowback.

There are a myriad of reasons why the public tide has turned against NFTs, not the least of which is that the transactions underlying their sale consumes not-insignificant amounts of energy. As NFTs have become more popular, the marketplace has also become extremely crowded with blatant cash grabs, controversial collectives, and general scams. The entire concept of NFTs, for many, has become overwhelming and frustrating.

Though this particular NFT has been removed from auction, the AP’s NFT collection is still very much alive and well. Along with its auction site, the AP is also experimenting with hosting educational photography sessions on its Discord and via Twitter Spaces.