When TikTok was killed in India after Chinese aggression at the LAC, hundreds of thousands of rural and small-town stars and influencers suddenly felt digitally orphaned. Then came Insta Reels, which was meant to adopt them. Two months on, Insta Reel is busy being woke, elitist, and big city-ish, edging out small town aspiration as cringe content.
You have to give it to Instagram. What started as a photo blog has evolved into a multimedia platform, arguably integrating different ways of content creation more seamlessly and engagingly than any other app. From Instagram Stories, to IGTV, to Reels — everything has been a smash hit.
Reels gives users the freedom to upload 30-second short videos. They are also available on the app’s explore page and their ‘snackability’ makes them perfect for mindless scrolling — what else do we want from social media after all?
Instagram has a penchant for picking an idea and doing it better. Its very existence gave tough competition to Facebook that later bought it. Even today, younger users stick to Instagram while Facebook has garnered the reputation of being the boring website used by oldies. With stories and filters, Instagram is finishing Snapchat. And with Reels, it sought to become a replacement to TikTok. But has that happened?
A pinch of wokeness, a dash of elitism
You will see a whole new brand of hot-takes on your Instagram profile.
These are micro-influencers doing weird things in their videos with flashes of woke opinions written on it. And those watching, too, easily form their opinions based on such content—nobody wants to take the pains to read up on issues. Hiding opinions under the garb of something pretty or stupid is the best way to influence people in 2020.
This is Instagram Reels for you. Well, a part of it, because such videos started trending shortly after the feature was launched. But what’s conspicuously missing from Reels are the typical TikTokers — the people Reels had hoped to woo. The Reels that I have come across are long rants that some consider funny — comedians making the best out of the ‘byte-long’ videos and small moments of joy. All cute things, tailored to the taste of a typical Instagram user.
Reels are markedly different from TikTok videos. One scroll of your ‘explore’ page will probably show you aesthetically appealing professionally put-together videos in which established comedians use filters to create vines, a dance in a posh society garden here, and a food recipe video in a modern kitchen there. From ‘major throwbacks’ to exotic locations, and fitness celebrities transitioning from Yoga in sneakers to a headstand in heels with equal panache — Reels is everything that TikTok wasn’t.
A typical TikTok video that captured the angst, ambition and attitude of the average Indian is largely missing, though not totally absent. One has to note that TikTok had an astounding presence in India’s rural market. Don’t think Instagram has been able to attract that audience. I sometimes miss TikTok’s ‘so bad it’s good’ videos that represented a class that only gets typecast in mass media.
Instagram is an elitist platform, and blatantly favours ‘influencers’ with a certain following. Take the example of the ‘Swipe Up’ feature in Stories — it is reserved for business profiles, verified accounts and people with minimum 10,000 followers.
TikTok in India had proven to be a more democratic platform with mass appeal — it had given a means of expression to people whose voices are largely deemed irrelevant in society. On Instagram, the elite made fun of TikTok content and its creators by tagging friends and writing ‘haha so cringe lmao’. And it hasn’t changed much now. Instagram, the app that feeds off insecurities, was never meant to give voice to raw, aesthetically lacking, glitz-less users. So, Reels will stick to its character. Reels, in short, has just become another platform for the internet bourgeois to monetise.
Most Reels that I have seen are made by established Instagram influencers looking to expand their reach. Instagram Stories were limited to followers — now, through short videos, they can reach potential audiences and lure them to their wonderful social media life.
TikTok kind of content absent
The lack of TikTok-like ‘cringe’ content on Reels is further proof of the segregation that our digital society suffers from. But the good thing is that Reels isn’t the only short-video app available.
To be fair, it’s not like the TikTok creators flocked to one alternate platform only, but their audience is now scattered. “Indian creators are using short video platforms like Moj, MX Takatak, Josh, Chingari alongside Reels. So the audience is a bit scattered as of now,” says social media influencer and creator Geet.
She also adds that the appeal for TikTok lies in its user-friendly and simple interface. Other platforms are probably not as simple. Instagram’s greatest head start was its already-strong and popular community, but that also makes the app complicated for some users who connected with TikTok for its simplicity. Reels had already taken over though, it had to. It’s available on the ‘explore’ page, which is reportedly used by 50 per cent of all Instagram users. We’re all in for byte-sized videos, but the means that democratised content creation shouldn’t fall into the hands of social media ‘elites’. I’d take ‘cringe’ over it every day.
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