Instagram cannot be absolved of perpetuating a toxic culture among young people by constantly showcasing a picture-perfect life. But you have to credit it as the social media website that gave a huge platform to budding artists, under-confident writers, micro fashionistas, and small businesses. It has also managed to stay free of boomer infestation for the longest period of time, unlike Facebook, which is currently under old people and birthday post occupation.
But Reels — Instagram’s version of TikTok — has completely killed its vibe. From an artistic platform, Instagram has become the den of below-average mediocre content creators who dance to pathetic songs and shove them in our faces — on repeat. And we are hooked on that algorithm.
Only Reels on loop
Unlike IGTV, Instagram’s failed bid to compete with YouTube, Reels took off to great hype and now dominates the content on its platform. You just stare for hours and keep scrolling mindlessly.
The Instagram Explore page, once the magical place to discover artists, places and new insecurities, is now cluttered with horrendous and patchwork Reels. Instagram, it seems, promotes Reels much more than any other content. Shopping and Reels dominate an Explore page.
Just think of the number of times you have heard the “Teri Nazron Ne Dil Ka Kiya Jo Hashar” on loop, or the number of times you have watched the “Buss it” or “Don’t Rush” challenge — every time with an expressionless look on your face.
Even the celebrities want in on the subpar content.
Here’s Shilpa Shetty doing yoga and promoting Fast&Up. One of the hashtags used is ‘Heal with Reels’
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Janhvi Kapoor dancing, quite well, to “Up” by Cardi B and promoting Filmfare.
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If you cut through the clutter to look for posts you want to read or photographs you want to like, Instagram will still bring a Reel into the algorithm, and before you realise it, you are again scrolling down the rabbit hole for more Reels from across the world. And I’ll admit one thing — they’re absolutely addictive.
It’s mostly making a reel on the trend of the week. The latest fads that have emerged are: Influencers changing clothes to the beat of “Touch It” by Busta Rhymes, or dancing to the choreography of Cardi B’s “Up”, or dancing like absolute monkeys to “Got me Good” by Ciara, or dancing and showing a middle finger in the end to some Spanish beat.
All the influencers as well as wannabe influencers riding on this Reels wave have collectively brought Instagram down from a place of wonderment to an uncreative, unimaginative platform.
Ameero ka TikTok
Reels are nothing but ameero ka TikTok (TikTok of the rich). And because it has South Bombay and South Delhi people leading the narrative, us mere mortals dare not call it ‘cringe’. The biggest beneficiary of our tiff with China in Ladakh clearly turned out to be Instagram India. If TikTok hadn’t been banned, maybe Reels wouldn’t have acquired the kind of market it has.
Months before the feature was introduced on this bourgeoisie platform that alienates everyone who doesn’t have money or the ‘perfect skinny body’ or perfect accessories, the same people who are big on Instagram were sharing content pages like ‘Emo Bois of TikTok’ looking down at the videos made by India’s (mostly rural and middle class) TikTokers.
Reels are also the perfect tool to attract the Gen Z audience. And you may go ahead and call me a millennial aunty, but kids these days really need to work on their taste. And their jeans preferences.
Since Instagram is a place occupied by well-off savarnas (just go through the names and photos of those with millions of followers), TikTok influencers never managed to build a following on Instagram, and most have faded into obscurity. Their medium of expression has once again been taken over by ‘influenzas’ (as they’re called).
For example, dancer Nidhi Kumar had 1.2 million followers on TikTok. She has a little over 200K followers on Instagram currently. Athlete Adil Khan had over 3.8 million followers on TikTok, he currently has only 22,700 followers on Instagram.
Influenzas, sit down and listen, nothing you do in front of that camera is anyway near the vines our brothers and sisters on TikTok were making. Those vines had a storyline, they had an emotion, they had ambition and they had glee — of finally getting the ability to express oneself.
The Reels on Instagram are boring and annoying, and propagate influencer culture much more than the platform previously did. And who wins? Advertisers. Reels has worked for the social media giant. After the feature was launched, Instagram’s engagement in India increased by 3.5 per cent.
Facebook ruined Instagram
At the heart of the many changes Instagram has seen over the past year has been the rush to woo advertisers. Even Swiggy and banks do Reels now. Advertisers pay influencers to use and showcase their products, and the more visibility an influencer gets, the more product these companies sell.
Instagram had started becoming more and more advertiser-friendly after it was taken over by Facebook in 2012.
To see how advertisers were favoured, consider this. In September 2015, Instagram allowed advertisers to post 30-second-long videos while an average creator could only post 15-second-long videos. In March 2016, its photo feed, reported The National, became algorithm-based instead of a chronological one. In 2019, Instagram announced it will let advertisers promote posts by influencers that work with their brands. In the name of non-disruptive advertising (ads that don’t look like ads), it basically meant our feed was changing to incorporate more influencers selling products.
Instagram’s logo was changed on 11 May 2016, but its real identity change came five years later. It must face its identity crisis — place where we share our photos, culture, work and life with people from all over the world, or a platform monopolised by influencers who, in one way or another, are selling us a lifestyle or a product?
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