New York (CNN Business) — Tati Bruening was once a perfect example of an Instagram user. Since the pandemic, she has been building her career as a photographer on the platform and attracted hundreds of thousands of followers in the process. But recently, her relationship with her Instagram started to change.
On Monday, Bruening shared a publication on the platform asking to “Make Instagram Instagram again.” The photographer told CNN Business that she was scrolling through the app and was frustrated by the lack of content she was seeing from the accounts she followed in the wake of recent updates prioritizing recommended posts and videos from her Reels product. .
“I was looking at a post from my friend under three Reels and a recommended post that was six days old,” he said. As he put it in his post: “Stop trying to be TikTok, I just want to see pretty pictures of my friends.”
His post went viral. This Tuesday morning it already had more than 1.7 million “likes”, thanks in part to the fact that two of the most influential figures on the platform shared it: Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. The famous sisters are among the most followed accounts on Instagram, with 360 million and 326 million followers, respectively, and their opinions carry great weight in the social media world. A February 2018 tweet from Jenner, in which she criticized a Snapchat redesign, was allegedly responsible for the company losing $1.3 billion in value in one week.
The attention to Bruening’s post reflects the growing backlash against recent updates to the Instagram platform, which boasts more than a billion users. To counter the competitive threat of TikTok, whose discovery algorithm is seen as its biggest competitive advantage, Instagram has started showing users a much higher proportion of recommended content from accounts they don’t follow versus posts from their friends. It has also prioritized video content over the photos for which it is known. The platform has also been experimenting with displaying posts full screen, like TikTok.
Arguably, the problem has been brewing for years. Since 2020, the company has been experimenting with showing users more “suggested posts” in their feeds. Recommended content and ads now make up a significant part of the Instagram feed, often pigeonholing users into certain categories of content (like recipes or relationship advice) in a way that sometimes seems to ignore whether they actually follow those accounts or not. interests.
Instagram’s latest controversy comes at a sensitive time for its parent company, Meta. The company is battling an aging and stagnant user base on its flagship Facebook platform, and Instagram is widely seen as the best bet in its family of apps to maintain and grow the crucial younger audience. But Meta, like many of the social media world’s older players, faces stiff competition from TikTok and is struggling to gain momentum in its attempts to copy it. While Instagram users are somewhat more likely to open the app daily, TikTok users spend an average of about 45 minutes more per day on the app than people on Instagram, according to a report from the research firm Sensor Tower for the second quarter of 2022. In a february call With Wall Street analysts, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Instagram Reels “are up against a competitor in TikTok that’s much bigger, so it’s going to take a while to… catch up.”
At the same time, Meta relies on revenue from Instagram and its other apps to help fund its investment in building a future version of the internet it calls the “metaverse.” And the company, which is set to report second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, may see a slowdown in ad spending, its core business, amid rising inflation and recession fears.
Shares of Meta fell nearly 3% on Tuesday after mounting backlash from the Kardashians and others.
“The problem for Meta is that nothing is good right now,” said DA Davidson analyst Tom Forte. “Instagram is meant to be the asset to exploit for Meta, to target the younger market, so it’s only natural for me that they’re using Instagram as the way to respond to the competitive threat of TikTok.”
This isn’t the first time Meta has done something like this. In 2016, months before Snapchat’s parent company debuted on Wall Street, Instagram copied one of the star features of the messaging app, Stories. Instagram soon reached more users with its version of the feature than Snapchat. But his efforts to copy TikTok with Reels have proven more difficult.
Many have pointed out that the videos in the Reels are often just old TikTok videos, sometimes shared weeks after they went viral on TikTok, and occasionally still bearing the TikTok logo. In some cases, users share a still photo set to music as a Reel in an effort to better position themselves on the platform. Instagram, for its part, has tried to incentivize users to make original Reels, with funding programs for creators and featuring them prominently in the feed. The company is also testing sharing all videos under 15 minutes as Reels.
To be sure, Instagram isn’t the only platform prioritizing videos and recommended content as it tries to keep up with TikTok, which surpassed 1 billion monthly active users last year. Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have also taken steps in that direction.
“The point of view is that this is like the cell phone, that is, it is an evolutionary change in Internet consumption,” Forte said. “What option does Facebook have? It would be almost impossible to buy TikTok, which was what was done before, so now they have to try to innovate.”
For creators like Breuning, who make their living through Instagram, the changes feel especially painful, given its origins as a photo app catering to artists and photographers.
“It feels wrong to change the algorithm on creators who have made a living and contributed to the community, forcing them to change their entire content address and lifestyle to serve a new algorithm,” Bruening wrote in a change petition. .org calling on Instagram to “Stop trying to be TikTok!” It has gotten more than 150,000 signatures in four days.
Instagram did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. However, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri addressed the criticism in a video posted on the platform on Tuesday.
“We’re experimenting with a number of different changes to the app and so we’re hearing a lot of concerns from all of you,” he said, acknowledging complaints about the move to video and the increase in recommended content. “We’re going to continue to support photos, they’re part of our heritage. … That being said, I have to be honest: I think more and more of Instagram is going to turn to video over time.”
Mosseri continued, “If you look at what people share on Instagram, it’s increasingly shifting to video over time. If you look at what people want and consume and see on Instagram, that’s also shifting more and more.” more towards video, even if we don’t change anything. So we’re going to have to lean towards that change while still supporting photos.”
Mosseri also warned that testing of the full-screen video feature is “not good yet” and has only been rolled out to a small percentage of users. And he pointed to the option Instagram launched earlier this year for users to switch the platform to a chronological feed of posts only from accounts they follow.
But that explanation was not enough to silence the critics. Some users have expressed in the comments that they had no choice but to start making more videos if they wanted the platform’s algorithm to show their content. Others suggested that if the platform was too similar to TikTok, they would be inclined to choose one of the applications instead of both.
“People make VIDEOS because we don’t have scope in our photos!” said fashion creator Alina Tanasa (@fabmusealina) in a comment on Mosseri’s video. “As a content creator I need and want everyone and with photos all reach is cut off and only videos are promoted. So it’s not us, it’s you who are changing everything and are afraid of TikTok.”
Makeup influencer James Charles, who has nearly 23 million followers on Instagram, added in a comment: “I understand that every business has to evolve, compete and please investors, but Instagram is losing the competition and has lost its identity in the way. … We’re upset because we care about this app and the communities we’ve been able to build/join here, but I’m really worried that if something doesn’t change, there won’t be any community left.”
However, if there is a silver lining for Instagram it is that there are few other apps that put photos first, which makes it easier to criticize Instagram than to abandon it, especially for those who have built a life and livelihood on it. .
“Personally,” Breuning said, “I love Instagram and I’m not leaving it anytime soon.”