A user backlash has finally convinced Instagram to go back to its photo-based roots and “stop trying to be TikTok” – for now.
Instagram is walking back some of its most controversial updates after recent changes prioritising video content over photos have caused something of an uprising against the Meta-owned app.
This week, over 230,000 people signed a petition to “make Instagram Instagram again” and stop it from “trying to be TikTok”, asking Instagram to go back to its original purpose of simply allowing users to share photos with their friends.
Following the backlash, Instagram said on Thursday it would drop its tests of full-screen photo and video posts and would bring down the number of posts in user feeds that its algorithm recommends.
“Based on our findings and community feedback, we’re pausing the full-screen test on Instagram so we can explore other options, and we’re temporarily decreasing the number of recommendations you see in your feed so we can improve the quality of your experience," a spokesperson for Meta told Euronews Next.
"We recognise that changes to the app can be an adjustment, and while we believe that Instagram needs to evolve as the world changes, we want to take the time to make sure we get this right".
In an interview with Platformer, Instagram’s boss Adam Mosseri admitted that "for the new feed designs, people are frustrated and the usage data isn’t great”.
“So there I think that we need to take a big step back, regroup, and figure out how we want to move forward," he said.
A win for Instagram users
It’s a historic victory for users, who rarely get a say on what happens to the apps they spend hours on every single day.
Tati Bruening, who launched the petition to “make Instagram Instagram again” on Change.org on July 23, told Euronews Next she is “in shock at how many people have participated in my movement, in all honesty”.
“I nearly deleted the post in the beginning because I felt like it would be a flop! It was more about how I was feeling personally and so I wondered if it was just me,” she said.
“Initially, I had no goal, but as the movement became more real I knew that I wanted to make as much noise as possible and get Instagram’s attention. I wanted to get everyone talking about the state of Instagram and bring attention to Meta that we as users are feeling this way about the changes”.
Bad week for Instagram
Some of the world’s biggest social media influencers, including Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, had joined in with their own criticism of the platform’s new updates and reshared the petition.
In New York on July 23, a group of content creators also chained themselves outside of Meta’s headquarters to protest against Instagram’s content moderation policies which they accused of banning marginalised voices.
In short, it’s been a terrible week for Instagram, the likes of which the app had never seen since its creation in 2010, and even since it was purchased by then-Facebook two years later.
Mosseri had initially tried to fight back against the growing rage of users, bringing “observed data”, performance reviews and statistics to the table.
“One thing I hear a lot is people asking to see more friend content in Feed,” he wrote on Twitter on July 26. “I'd love for there to be more friend content in feed, but all the growth in photos and videos from friends has been in stories and in DMs”.
“We will continue to show photos and videos from friends towards the top of Feed whenever we can, but the best way to keep up with friends seems to be with the other parts of Instagram.”
Mosseri and Instagram tried to resist the criticism - and they lost.
A U-turn, not a total retreat
The main changes Instagram was experimenting with - a full-screen feed favouring video content and suggesting posts from accounts people weren’t following - are going to be scrapped.
Mosseri said the changes will be phased out in the next one to two weeks, and the app will also decrease the number of suggested posts - though this will only be temporary.
Instagram’s U-turn is not a permanent retreat. Mosseri made clear that the company is only considering how to improve the new features, and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced this week that AI-recommended posts will be 30 per cent of what users see on Instagram and Facebook by the end of 2023.
Zuckerberg, in Meta’s latest earnings call with reporters, said that the amount of time users spend watching Reels on Instagram - the app’s short video feature similar to TikTok - has grown by 30 per cent, a performance that suggests video content is not going anywhere.
Instagram users fed up with the changes are also not backing off just yet, either.
Bruening’s next goal is to reach 500,000 signatures on the petition, she told Euronews Next.
A call to boycott Instagram on August 1, promoted by photographer Alexandra Cameron, has received over 12,000 likes, suggesting that some might take part in the protest action.
The fight for the future of Instagram is still on, even though the most pessimistic have already declared Instagram “dead” and said they were ready to join the likes of Vine, MySpace and Tumblr.