Early in December 2018, Instagram rolled out a new feature called “Close Friends.” It seemed fine. I wrote about the update and declared it just the latest in a series of steps taken by Instagram to be more like Facebook. Close Friends is what it sounds like, a user-selected list of followers with whom that user can share select content they don’t want their wider follower list to view. Facebook, vis-a-vis Instagram, wants to keep people sharing, even if it’s with a smaller audience, I explained. Then … I moved on. As somebody with a public Instagram account who only shares content I’m fine with everyone and my mother – hi, mom – seeing, I never bothered to use the feature.
And that, I thought, would be the end of it. Until, a week later, I watched a story from a college friend and noticed a green sticker at the top of her story. She had designated me a “close friend.” I smiled. I was tickled. If I were a gambling woman I wouldn’t have even bet you a dollar that this was a person who would have called me a “close friend” IRL. But there it was in green and white, “close friends.” Since then I’ve been designated as such by a handful of other people on Instagram. Each time, I’m not going to lie, it feels good.
Now, I realize there is a wide chasm between being a truly close friend with someone and being the type of “close friend” with whom they’d be comfortable sharing an Instagram Story. I know that for many of these people the “Close Friends” list might not be about letting followers know who among them are the In crowd, so much as a way to limit who can see personal information – like, for example, their location at any given moment or when their apartment is empty because they are on vacation. But it’s hard not to to go with the former definition, for ego’s sake.
The flip here is that I now find myself in a panic that my friends – my real, close friends – might think I’m snubbing them when they watch my story and don’t see the same green sticker. It’s not a diss. I just don’t use the feature. But there is no way to signal to them that I don’t. And then, once I’ve started ruminating, I start worrying about the same thing in relation to me. What about all the people I followed whose stories also don’t show me that green sticker? Do they have a secret story going for their cool followers, their close friends that I’ll never be able to see? Five minutes of this becomes 20 becomes an hour of watching stories in bed and spiraling. (Instagram anxiety is real and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.)
Back in the dark ages, Myspace had a feature called Top 8 where users selected eight other users to display on their profile as their best friends. Friends could be slotted in and out depending their standing at the moment. Brutal? Maybe. A tool for owning your frenemies? Sure. But at least you knew where you stood. Instagram’s “Close Friends” doesn’t have that definitiveness. I almost wish it did. Then at least I could move on to stressing out about something else.