The other day I was thumbing through Instagram Stories and got sucked into a particular favorite rabbit hole of mine: content from a childhood friend I haven’t seen in easily a decade and a half who in recent years has, among other things, peddled fitness programs for an MLM, graduated from law school, and moved to California to live out her days on a beach as a “wellness coach.” Her life is so unlike mine that I watch in perverse delight every time she posts a Story, usually a combination of shorefront yoga clips and direct-to-camera inspirational mantras.
Watching somebody’s Instagram Stories isn’t like creeping their profile or stalking their old Facebook albums. Instagram shows users a list of everyone who watches their Stories, so my friend knows I watch her content. Actually, she knows I watch all her content. I’m okay with that. But I don’t want to draw any more attention to myself than that. Which was why I was horrified when, while watching one particular yoga clip recently, a flurry of crying emoji appeared seemingly out of nowhere and floated across my screen. I had accidentally thumbed over Instagram’s new quick reactions — a set of eight emoji which appear over Instagram Stories if you swipe up just so and can be sent with a single tap — and sent her the crying-face emoji.
The animation of the emoji is just insult to injury. When you send them, your selected — or errantly selected — emoji, multiplies by 20 or so and they float up the screen. Dozens of heart-eye emoji drifting away, taunting you, saying, you dummy, you didn’t mean to send this confetti of emoji but now it’s here and you should be very embarrassed. A cursory Twitter search left me in good company with plenty of other people who have also made this goof. For me, it’s usually the crying-face emoji or the 100 emoji because those are the two that are the furthest right of the options. I’m right-handed and hold my phone while watching Instagram Stories in such a way that I frequently errantly send those two. Sure, you can unsend them, but that assumes you can move quickly enough from Stories to DMs and unsend the mistaken emoji missive before the recipient sees it. Which you’ll never know for sure.
“I’ve noticed them but haven’t sent any. I keep accidentally answering polls though,” my friend Andrea told me when I asked if she’d sent or received any errant emoji DMs since quick reactions were introduced. She said somebody had sent her the fire emoji in response to a story where she’d lightly — she’d want me to emphasize lightly —bleached her eyebrows. That person then followed up blaming the feature and telling Andrea what they actually meant to say. “A fan is a fan,” she said. Which … true. But only because that fan got lucky and and didn’t send a negative emoji.
There are some people whose Stories I watch where if I accidentally thumbed them some clapping hands emoji or a 100 emoji I wouldn’t really care. But for the most part, I watch Stories from hundreds of people every day who I’ve never spoken to and with whom I don’t want to interact. The crying-face emoji to the childhood friend hasn’t been the only incident for me. I keep accidentally sending, and then having to unsend, emoji to people. There’s currently no way to turn off quick reactions on Instagram. Believe me, I have tried.
With my friend’s Story, I unsent the crying-face emoji as quickly as I could and never said anything else about it. I can only hope she doesn’t think her sun salutations made me cry.