A brief-ish discourse of fact-derived opinions about why maybe you shouldn’t use Instagram, delivered to artists, businesses, and you.
Instagram, the fun startup that threatened Facebook so much they bought it, is the de facto home for image sharing on the internet. The internet allows people to freely express themselves in order to find their community. One way to do this is by uploading pictures of your artwork, inspirational quotes, or of yourself in bikini bottoms.
Artists use Instagram to find community. Instagram, with its succor of visually-inspiring squares, appears worlds away from Facebook’s discordant stream of arguing relatives. But Instagram is owned by Facebook. It is Facebook. Think of it as a marriage. It is Instagram-Facebook.
Instagram-Facebook reflects Facebook’s view of the web: that it should be a closed system run by Facebook and its algorithm. This creates problems.
Instagram-Facebook’s problems can’t be discussed without talking about the algorithm.
High Level Summary:
The algorithm is a math-shaped rectangle in which Instagram-Facebook tries to fit the sprawling polygon of humanity.
In a surprise to no-one (except, allegedly, Instagram-Facebook), this does not work. Their racket relies on people not knowing or ignoring that fact.
The Algorithmic God
Instagram-Facebook talks about the algorithm as if it were a god. It isn’t a god, it’s code. This code makes decisions like “A user’s posts are getting popular. If we restrict how many people see (and therefore like) their posts, will the user give us money to lift that restriction?”.
Another use of the algorithm is to change the order people see posts. Instead of seeing posts chronologically, the timeline is shuffled by the algorithm into what it thinks people want to see most. Done poorly, clicking on several pictures of butts would suddenly turn your timeline into a buttvalanche…which is exactly what happens. It may be other things for you: celebrity pets, cakes that look like body parts, plants plants plants!, etc.
Instagram-Facebook claims the algorithm is about maintaining quality. Instagram-Facebook is full of baloney. The algorithm’s about making money.
The Algorithmic Gamble
Using Instagram-Facebook to share your work is a gamble. They own the casino, and in this analogy that casino is named Instagram. The first rule of gambling is the house always wins. Instagram always wins. Whether you use Instagram as an aspiring influencer or anti-capitalist reformer, Instagram wins. Your presence is their payment. The digital trace of your attention is all Instagram-Facebook needs to show potential advertisers. Advertisers crave your attention. Attention is worth money.
Instagram-Facebook gets your attention for free when you visit Instagram. Your attention while looking at other posts, plus the attention you bring to Instagram by posting your own work, is all sold to advertisers. You get nothing. Sure, you get likes and validation. Heady stuff! But likes don’t pay bills. Instagram gets money. You get likes. The house wins.
Whose House? Instagram’s House
Instagram-Facebook controls the house and its algorithm for what we’ll euphemistically call “luck”. If you’re lucky, the algorithm lets lots of people see, like, and share your posts—until your luck changes. Is your content no longer good? Or have you merely run afoul of Instagram-Facebook’s algorithm?
The protection racket
Instagram-Facebook promises one way to help: money. All your problems will be solved by giving Instagram-Facebook your money. Instagram-Facebook has brought you exposure and sales. You gamble again and pay for a few Instagram Ads. The results are amazing:
Zero. Bupkis. Great big donut of nothingness.
Remember who owns the casino? Instagram-Facebook. They make the rules. They make money from your work when people look at it, and they take money from you twice when you pay them to try to get more people to look at your free work. They double-dip, because it’s their house and their rules.
What are you gonna do, leave?
[ gif of Mark Zuckerberg laughing ]
This sleazy-but-legal (sleazgal?) relationship would be…less egregious, at best…if there wasn’t another problem for you run into: censorship.
Instagram-Facebook is a Censor
On the positive side, it tries to censor hate. On the negative, it has a history of heavy- to ham-handed actions in censoring the world as users see, and post, to Instagram.
The reasons for censorship are varied, a mix of algorithmic manipulations (see aforementioned buttvalanche), actual violations, poor or malicious guideline enforcement, other things, more, and a possibility that maybe Facebook doesn’t care as much as they say they do. It’s a secret system, y’all! The point is these problems are happening, have happened, and will continue to happen unless Instagram-Facebook changes (unlikely) or you leave. Don’t trust your abuser.
A short list of Instagram-Facebook issues have included or include:
- Mothers breastfeeding
- Nipples and nudity (see also: 1, 2, 3, 4)
- Deleting posts from POC or larger people while leaving similar posts from white or smaller people untouched
- Famous paintings, art, reported (legitimately or disingenuously) as offensive
- Deleting accounts run by sex workers or adult performers
- Deleting accounts targeted by harassers & mass-reported
- Showing weight-loss ads to users with eating disorders
No warning, goodbye. Into the trash goes your art, followers, friends. Your compensation? Nothing.
They act like they’re the only website in town. They aren’t.
Yes, leave! Export your content, post a goodbye message, and go to a new platform! Artists have historically been taken advantage of by the rich and the powerful. It’s one thing if you choose to work for a bad employer, but it’s another to be mistreated when providing free labor to make someone else (i.e., Instagram-Facebook) rich. You don’t work for free, and free work is what you give to Instagram-Facebook.
Using Instagram-Facebook to promote your work isn’t like advertising. Your post might not even be seen by a user who follow you if the algorithm decided (incorrectly) that user wanted to see less of you, and more of plants plants plants!
Sure, it’s the algorithm behind Instagram-Facebook that you’re paying to advertise against in order to be seen by other people using their app and algorithm, but trust them. Leave everything to Instagram-Facebook.
Including your income, customers, and artwork.