Every social media platform has bottom feeders. You know the ones: the fake teen pornbots, the meme factories, the personal brand trumpeters — the spammers. They come in many different forms, but they are all categorically bad, and they make the experience of actually using the platform slightly worse every time they pop up. Even if you don't follow them, their mere existence is irritating enough. On Instagram, the bottom feeders tend to trade in copycatting, reposting, excessive hashtagging and strictly unoriginal content. They're the "follow for follow" hounds. The recycled meme posters. (These are sometimes funny if you are insanely high, but only then.) The niche interest pages. The inspirational slogan farms. The types of accounts that post photos of beautiful beaches and cities but strip them of any context, rendering them boring. Then, of course, there are the "influencers", some of whom get paid obscene amounts of money from corporate partnerships.
You know they suck, I know they suck and I'm pretty sure they know they suck. But do you know what would make them a lot less annoying?
A few weeks ago, Instagram announced its plans to forego its long-standing chronological timeline and switch to an algorithm. Ideally, users would receive a better selection of content; instead of a firehose, the stream would more closely resemble a measured trickle of filtered water from the teat of Poseidon himself.
At the time, it didn't seem to matter much either way (though some people at this website would disagree). A few days after the announcement, however, a PR pitch — the relevant parts of which appear below — landed in my inbox:
Instagram's a mess and a ton of influencers are feeling the fear of losing the leverage of their brand. A good example is [redacted] which has 2.1 million followers. They reached out to us [redacted] because they knew the changes to Instagram would potentially kill their brand and engagement four ways to Sunday.
One of our favourite lines from that conversation was "I have 2.1 million followers and I'm done with Instagram."
To which I can only say: Thank god.
I checked out the account. It was one of those generic, interest-based pages that throws up shitty photos and always asks its followers to click over to other, nearly identical accounts. It did indeed have 2.1 million followers, which is incredible considering it only seems to repost the same images from other pages. If the new algorithm — the format of which was described as one that "will be based on the likelihood you'll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post" — will kill vacuous, spammy accounts like this, then all the better. (The obscenely popular ones, that is — there are plenty of other, smaller accounts that, while still annoying, don't have quite the same platform.)
Consider that a typical post by the account with 2.1 million followers gets about 20,000 to 30,000 likes. That's certainly a lot of likes, but it means that only one or two per cent of its followers decided to double tap. (The comments are even rarer.) If the algorithm is truly based on user interaction, it's plausible that accounts with lopsided numbers like this will bite the dust. And that's nothing to say of other, even more garbage pages — the bots, the follow back leeches, the thieves.
Of course, no one except the gatekeepers knows how the algorithm will work, and even those people don't know exactly what will happen. But that hasn't stopped a lot of people — "influencers" and spammy accounts included — from having roughly 17 cows.
They're worried, because soon they will be at the whim of a fancy computer instead of relying on posting during high-traffic times. Neither overlord is kind, but time, at least, is predictable; an algorithm is not. It also wouldn't be the first time Facebook has used its algorithm to kill junk food content — just ask Upworthy, whose traffic was murdered by the machines back in 2014.
Will some relatively benign people — small businesses, kitten fan pages — get caught in the crossfire? Possibly, unfortunately. Will my own shitty posts get lost in the shuffle? Hopefully. But if it means the slow, painful death of spammers, then so be it.