Instagone? Will Instagram’s catastrophic drive to copy TikTok’s annoying videos spell the end of supergeek Zuckerberg’s reign?
Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner are stellar members of the attention-seeking, oversharing celebrity family who are adored and loathed in equal measure by millions of people across the world.
Their narcissistic antics on the internet via selfies, videos and posts have brought them vast fortunes and given them enormous power as ‘influencers’.
Jenner, a 24-year-old model and beauty industry mogul, has 361 million followers on Instagram — comfortably more than the total population of the U.S.
Kardashian, 41, also a model, lingerie designer and possessor of a bottom that famously ‘broke the internet’, lags slightly behind with a mere 327 million.
They are the unrivalled queens of social media — and tech tycoons know you cross them at your peril when even markets tremble in their fragrant wake.
Four years ago, Jenner casually let slip that she no longer used the instant messaging app Snapchat. Its shares promptly fell more than six per cent, wiping more than £1 billion from the company’s value in just a day.
So when, a few days ago, the siblings shared a critical post about Instagram, alarm bells rang in Silicon Valley.
The rapacious Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies at Meta (the new name for Facebook), which owns Instagram, now find they have incurred the wrath of one of social media’s most powerful groups, the women who use the app as a window on their lives and loves
Jenner shared an image on the site that included the words ‘Make Instagram Instagram again. (stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends.) Sincerely, Everyone.’ To which Kardashian added: ‘Pleaseeeeeee’ and her sister later echoed: ‘Pretty Please.’
Tens of millions of fellow users — of whom a majority are female — knew precisely what they meant and would have been nodding vigorously in agreement.
The rapacious Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies at Meta (the new name for Facebook), which owns Instagram, now find they have incurred the wrath of one of social media’s most powerful groups, the women who use the app as a window on their lives and loves.
This is not just about celebrities, influencers, photographers and designers drumming up business and attention with their great, and sometimes not-so-great, taste. It’s mothers worldwide showing off their children, their homes, a new dress or bag.
Or perhaps just the amazing starter they have just been served at their local bistro.
The same principle guides pretty much all of Instagram’s 1.3 billion users: if you see something or someone you like, you follow them. It can be classy or trashy but above all it is — or was — fun.
The trouble started when Instagram recently updated its app to predominantly serve up so-called Reels (short videos) to users on their home screens.
Unlike the still images Instagrammers were used to enjoying, as and when these were posted by those they followed, the ‘short-form’ videos are suggested by computer algorithms monitoring users’ online habits. In fact, Reels are a blatant attempt to mimic TikTok, a Chinese app with an emphasis on home videos, which saw its popularity soar during Covid lockdowns.
Jenner shared an image on the site that included the words ‘Make Instagram Instagram again. (stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends.)
It is now the most-used social network in the world, but clearly a long way from Instagram’s photo-sharing roots.
Leaked memos from within Meta have suggested the tech behemoth is concerned about falling behind other social media platforms and has been rethinking how its users ‘see’ their feeds.
This attempt to be more TikTok was the result.
Evidently, Instagram users didn’t like the ‘update’. A petition was launched — then shared by Jenner and Kardashian, with their zillions of followers — demanding that Instagram bosses restore the platform to its previous incarnation.
‘Make Instagram Instagram again’ attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures on the website Change.org.
Tati Bruening, the photographer who launched it, said she did so on behalf of ‘the people’ to bring back chronological timelines and an algorithm that favours photos.
She explained that, while scrolling through Instagram last week, she noticed her friends’ snaps were missing from her feed.
By yesterday her petition had attracted nearly 250,000 signatories — and then came news that Instagram had caved in . . . or sort of. After days of damaging headlines for Meta on various fronts, Instagram chief executive Adam Mosseri said the company was pausing the rollout of its new version, and some of the changes would be dropped, while the number of algorithmically suggested videos would be reduced.
However, he made it very clear that this might be only a short-term victory for the critics. The number of videos inflicted on users will rise again when his company feels the technology has improved.
In fact, Reels are a blatant attempt to mimic TikTok, a Chinese app with an emphasis on home videos, which saw its popularity soar during Covid lockdowns
With typical Silicon Valley vanity, Mosseri said: ‘I’m glad we took a risk. If we’re not failing every once in a while, we’re not big enough or bold enough.
‘But we definitely need to take a big step back and regroup.’ He then invited user feedback on Twitter, but probably wished he hadn’t. He was immediately flooded with withering complaints from users who told the company to back off and stop interfering.
‘Horrendous’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘unusable’, they chorused. Many complained they didn’t want to see videos and adverts produced by people they neither knew nor cared about. All they wanted was to be able to view photographs posted by their friends or people they chose to follow — which was the main reason they had joined Instagram in the first place.
In truth, this is a clash not just between still photos (Instagram) and short videos (TikTok) but a generational struggle.
As Instagram diehards see it, the battle is between a grown-up social media forum where people can share uplifting and inspirational images from their everyday lives versus an endless, moronic stream of short videos of teenagers doing silly dances and mindless pranks to blaring pop music.
For the moment, Kylie, Kim & Co have triumphed over the clowns of TikTok.
But it has been a bruising reality check for Meta, whose multi-billionaire boss Zuckerberg rarely admits he is fallible but who has been under growing pressure.
Last week, Meta announced its first ever revenue decline as it battled against an advertising downturn, the stronger dollar and growing competition from the likes of TikTok.
Last week, Meta announced its first ever revenue decline as it battled against an advertising downturn, the stronger dollar and growing competition from the likes of TikTok
Clearly rattled, the usually robotic Mr Zuckerberg lost his cool during a staff Q&A session when, after he had just explained that the company faced the worst economic downturn in its history, one brave or foolhardy employee asked for more time off.
‘Given my tone in the rest of the Q&A, you can probably imagine what my reaction to this is,’ he snapped. ‘Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.’
In fact, some have been asking whether Mr Zuckerberg might be one of them, as he leads a once all-conquering social media empire that is increasingly being outpaced by rivals — and indulging in PR blunders such as the Instagram debacle.
Industry observers say the fact that his only response to the biggest threat — TikTok — is simply to copy it on both Instagram and Facebook (which is also showing signs of mimicking the TikTok formula) shows a fundamental lack of vision at the top of the company.
Critics have been attacking the leadership of autocratic Zuckerberg — who started Facebook in his Harvard University dorm room in 2004 — for months. He feels the threat of TikTok in particular because it has much younger users than either Facebook or Instagram, which makes it especially desirable to advertisers.
Meanwhile, the network has moved beyond mere entertainment into news and shopping, even as its Chinese roots have sparked concern among Western governments, particularly the U.S.
While it is certainly not the first time Mr Zuckerberg’s company has dealt with competitors by lifting their ideas, some wonder whether the Instagram farce — which came just a day after he told investors the move to computer-chosen videos was the future — might be the blow that finally removes him from the top seat.
If it does, the founders of Instagram are unlikely to shed any tears. They fell out with Zuckerberg after he bought their creation.
For the moment, Kylie, Kim & Co have triumphed over the clowns of TikTok. But it has been a bruising reality check for Meta, whose multi-billionaire boss Zuckerberg rarely admits he is fallible but who has been under growing pressure
The photo-sharing platform was set up in San Francisco by young entrepreneurs Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, in 2010. Their idea was hardly rocket science — by substituting images for words, the pair had acknowledged that people using social media didn’t just want to share what they were thinking but also what they were seeing.
The advent of smartphones that could take pictures and instantly post them online ensured Instagram was a smash, attracting ten million users in its first year and reaching the point where ‘Instagramming’ is now officially a verb.
It inevitably caught the attention of Zuckerberg, who bought it.
The $1 billion deal in April 2012 shocked the industry — Yahoo had paid just $35 million for a similar site, Flickr, a few years earlier — but Zuckerberg was unabashed and its phenomenal growth proved his point.
Until TikTok arrived. Some compared its astonishing success with the way moving pictures replaced still photography, but the reality was rather more prosaic.
Launched in Beijing in 2016 by an internet business called ByteDance, its formula of showing videos (lasting from 15 seconds to ten minutes but usually short) of dancing, tricks, stunts, pranks and pratfalls was a hit with low-attention-span, internet-addicted teenagers.
It is an unregulated Wild West in terms of content, and for those who were already worried about internet addiction and the amount of time young people spend on their phones, TikTok has been a heavy blow.
A future in which Instagram, by comparison a haven of calm and civility, becomes even more like TikTok will alarm its fans.
And, given the events of this week, might it even hasten Mark Zuckerberg’s toppling from his Silicon Valley throne?
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