Glitch in the algorithm

Caroline Hendrix, Senior Writer

Instagram was the first form of social media that I ever had. My first posts consisting of throw-back-Thursdays and screenshots of Will Ferrell tweets serve as a time capsule for how its function and purpose has shifted over time. The days of throwbacks and selfie-Saturdays were overtaken by photo dumps and birthdays posts. And now more than ever, Reels and other video content has been given priority by Instagram’s algorithm. 

While this might seem like a natural progression from pictures to video that reflects a shift in the type of content users prefer to engage with, many Instagram users are holding on to the original Instagram format to maintain their ability to share photos in a way that other platforms do not. Particularly, small artists and creators whose work is best portrayed in photos are struggling to continue to drive engagement and make the shift to video. 

The New York Times captures the experience of comic illustrator Mx. Lee who owes their success in illustrating published work to Instagram yet fears that a shift in the algorithm may limit future success. They explain that artists whose work relies on still images aren’t seeing as much engagement as they used to, and many are giving up on Instagram for other platforms like VSCO, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Mx. Lee also shares that the profitability from shifting to video content to reach more users is almost non-existent. The article even shares illustrators and artists who have tried to animate their otherwise still work to appeal to the algorithm. 

In an effort to compete with other platforms, Instagram has directed users towards more video content in a once photo-driven space, leaving artists who don’t conform at risk of losing their social media communities in a sea of algorithmically-recommended creators whose content do match the mold that Instagram has set. An algorithm should not have a say in the type of content we push out and it should not force people to compromise their creative agency for views, likes, and exposure.

I disagree with the decision to compete with other platforms by mimicking their content and features. I use Instagram to look at photos and short-form content that allow me to keep up with the lives of my friends and family. I go to TikTok for vine-like videos and slightly longer-form content. I go to Snapchat to keep up with my friend’s Stories and BeReal to share a small snapshot of my day. 

Each platform has a different purpose and that is what keeps people engaged and coming back to a specific platform. If every platform had all of the same functions, then who’s to say people won’t just choose one and ditch the rest? And this is not the first time that social media has come under fire for copying other platforms. TikTok has added a new Now section that holds the exact same functions as BeReal. The Stories component on Instagram closely resembles that of Snapchat. 

These decisions are a way to compete with each other, but they also come with drawbacks: the quality of these platforms is threatened by replacing their singularity and losing whole communities whose content is being hidden from the algorithm. 

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