About a million years ago (specifically, 2016), Instagram forced algorithmic feeds on all its users. That meant the content they saw was no longer available in reverse chronological order and was instead shown in an order determined by a computer based on how users interacted with accounts they followed. It was a time of widespread panic, of influencers begging followers to “turn notifications on” so users would be alerted whenever they posted, and never miss a thing despite the pesky algorithm. Unsurprisingly, people mostly got over it. The promised Instagram apocalypse never truly descended. But this month it’s threatening to make a comeback in all its hyperbolic glory.
There’s a boilerplate post that’s been floating around Instagram this week claiming the platform “changed its algorithm for creators so only 7% of followers see our posts.” (FYI: This isn’t the first time such a post has popped up, but rather the first of … this year.) It then asks you, the follower, to like and comment “yes” because, as the post promises, this will trigger Instagram to start showing you that user’s posts again. It’s copy pasta — “copy and paste this status in the next fifteen minutes or else you’ll have bad luck for five years,” “American Airlines is giving away one, free round-trip ticket to the first 1,000 people to copy and share this status” — but for Instagram instead of Facebook statuses. An Instagram spokesperson told Intelligencer the feed team has not made any such adjustment to the algorithm. “This is false — we do not hide posts from your followers,” they said.
Whoever came up with the original post might be full of it, but not completely full of it. That bit urging you to “like and comment” is true, in the sense that, yes, if you interact with a user’s content you’re more likely to then see that user’s content in your feed. This is how an algorithm works. The funny thing here is if the person whose panicked “THIS IS A TEST” content you’re engaging with is somebody you interact with frequently on the platform, it probably won’t make a difference. You’re already going to be seeing their content. And for users whose post you’d consider frantically liking to ensure you keep seeing their content in your feed … do you actually want to? If you weren’t engaging with them already, maybe not.
If you’re the creator freaking out, remember Instagram is constantly making changes, big and small, to its algorithm. But they didn’t make one to the detriment of 93 percent of your followers. The algorithm is a pain-in-the-neck game that rewards people who like and share and tell their life story in the comments — see here: the rise of DiaryOfAFitMommyOfficial. If you want those so-called 93 percent to see more of your content, you’d do just as well explaining this to them. “Hey, Instagram’s algorithm works better if you like and comment, so give this post some love and drop a heart emoji in the comments if you want to see more from me!” Which, effectively, is what this week’s bogus Instagram apocalypse warnings do, too — with an added layer of panic.