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Why Instagram Reels Has Tragically Taken The "Social" Out Of Social Media

Photo: Ascannio / Shutterstock
Why Instagram Reels Has Taken The "Social" Out Of Social Media

The update no one asked for is 6 months old already and Instagram users are still not fans of Reels. 

Instagram Reels is part of numerous app updates over the past year that have made Instagram less of a social media app and more of a cash-grab. 

Instagram seems to have forgotten the core reasons people are drawn to the app: not to shop or watch influencers do dances made on other platforms, but to see and interact with photos. 

When Reels was launched in Aug. 2020, users were quick to note that the short video sharing platform was a bad copy and paste of TikTok

Younger app users had been migrating from Instagram to TikTok in large numbers since early in 2020 and Reels was a clear attempt to reverse this.

Instagram was probably hoping to recreate the success they had with their Snapchat-rivaled Instagram Stories back in 2016 but so far this has not reigned true. 

Instagram Reels is dominated by verified users for whom posting on social media is a full-time job.

And while we all love to see an influencer doing a highly-produced 30-second video from time to time, there’s nothing interactive or social about these posts. 

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There’s something inexplicably unnatural about Reels. These aren’t real people who picked up a camera to film something on their lunch break. These are planned and edited videos from people probably pushing a sponsored product. 

TikTok’s expertly crafted 'For You 'Page allows it’s users to find humorous pranks, political commentary, and a wild conspiracy theory in a few scrolls, all tailored to your taste based on your interactions. 

Charli Damelio’s content is mixed in with that guy who always bugged teachers in your high school classes and now posts videos of him shotgunning beers, giving us influencers and reality in equal measure. 

Meanwhile, Reels is like a who’s who of the Insta hall of fame, all with blue-ticks by their name even if you've never laid eyes on them in your life. While TikTok brings content to you, on Reels you have to go searching for anything worth watching

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with highly-produced Reels content. No one wants to see grainy, blurry Android footage all over their Instagram feeds. But if Instagram was trying to appeal to the TikTok generation who are swapping “Instaworthy” posts for a more off-the-cuff approach to content creation, they have failed.

The Reels algorithm relies heavily on engagement, so Instagram needs a helping hand to figure out what you like. But if you’re not using the feature, Instagram is just going to give you posts with high engagement which will likely be from a celebrity or influencer and not from anyone in your social circle. 

This means your not getting content regardless of who it came from but instead getting content because of who it came from. 

But even after early criticisms of the Reels update, it was clear Instagram wasn’t going to listen to frustrated users who just want to see their friend’s vacation photos and birthday posts.

A November 2020 update replaced the old post button with a section dedicated to the much-contested Reels. Clearly, users sharing content on the app was no longer a priority for Instagram.

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However, that wasn’t the only change, nor was it the most anti-social update. Instagram also launched their shopping feature: an Amazon wannabe with an interface like Depop that allows users to shop items directly on the app. 

Even the influencers got mad about this one. James Charles took to his story, included below, to criticize Instagram for neglecting its users. 

"They moved everything around and it makes it very, very clear where their priorities lie, and that is making money and only making money," Charles said in his rant, “Most importantly people are not seeing posts on their own timeline from their best friends and family that they press the follow button on,"

This feature was installed in the place you used to use to check your notifications, further detaching Instagram from the word “social”. Messages, comments, and likes from your friends are now banished to a tiny top corner to make room for more cash in Instagram’s wallet. 

Instagram confirmed that they take “a small fee” from purchases made in the app but the real monetization comes from businesses paying to be featured highly on the shopping tab. 

All of this has not only failed to reverse Instagram’s post-TikTok decline but instead, added to it. Instagram has seen a rapid decline in engagement over the past year, which many have blamed on the prioritization of ads and influencers over user experience. 

Instagram appears to have forgotten that ads can only make money if there are real people using to advertise to. By shifting further and further away from being a social place to interact, Instagram loses everything that attracted users in the first place.  

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a generalist with an interest in lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.