The algorithm is coming! Sometime soon — a widespread but totally unfounded rumor claims tomorrow — Instagram will stop arranging photos in your feed in simple reverse chronological order, instead sorting them algorithmically based on your behavior, similar to how your Facebook news feed works currently. It’s ultimately not a huge deal: The feeds you spend the most time looking at and liking will continue to appear prominently; the feeds you follow out of politeness or obligation, and scroll past quickly, will appear less frequently.
Not a huge deal to you, that is. It’s a huge deal to non-personal feeds — brands and other institutions — and it means that one of social media’s jankiest but most pervasive tactics is back with a vengeance: a photo with an arrow on it.
In an attempt to avoid getting buried by the algorithm, accounts are pleading with their fans to turn on post notifications. Note that this doesn’t mean that the accounts will be unaffected by the algorithm — it means that you will get a notification on your phone every time the account posts a photo. You won’t miss a single blurry vacation photo or fashion ad ever again! I’m not gonna tell you how to live your best Instagram life, but this seems like a bad way to deal with the algorithm.
No, if you’re really worried the algorithm will ruin your Instagram experience, consider that it’s based on your own behavior. The best way to make sure an account you like is still featured at the top of your feed is to continue interacting with its posts via likes and comments. (Update: Likes and comments most likely aren’t the only way to ensure accounts stay at the top of your screen: Instagram almost definitely tracks metrics like the amount of time you spend hovering over a post without actively doing anything, so for accounts you want to see but don’t want to like or comment on — hate follows and crushes, for example — just keep lingering, and Instagram will do the rest.)
If you have to take extra effort to make sure someone’s posts are appearing frequently, it’s probably because … you don’t actually look at or interact with their photos. That’s the thing about algorithms — they hide things that you won’t notice are missing, like people you spoke to twice in high school or that guy you met at a networking event.
(There’s a nakedly capitalist angle to approach this from as well: One of Facebook’s primary ways of bringing in revenue is to charge pages in order to reach more people. The organic reach for large pages generally hovers around two percent, meaning that for each Facebook post, only a single-digit percentage of page subscribers see it. Pages (“Brands”) can then pay Facebook more money in order to have more people see the posts. By introducing an algorithmic feed to Instagram, brands — specifically the ones that do extremely well on the service, like fashion and lifestyle companies — will soon likely see the same dips in organic reach that have wreaked havoc for publishers on Facebook. I hope this paragraph is as fun to read as it was to write.)
The bottom line is that the algorithm is happening whether you like it or not, and you will continue to see the feeds you actually spend time looking at, liking, and commenting on. But if you’re feeling really adventurous, and/or can’t resist following crudely drawn instructions on your social feed, feel free to turn your phone into an ever-more-menacing notifications hell.