Instagram, the Internet’s Cool Mum, Leaves Up Videos Encouraging Kids to Steal From School

Instagram, the Internet’s Cool Mum, Leaves Up Videos Encouraging Kids to Steal From School
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Instagram's parent company Facebook, speaks during the Digital-Life-Design conference in 2019. (Photo: Lino Mirgeler, Getty Images)

Like an ageing water park, Facebook owes its continued existence to occasionally throwing in a new wave pool (Instagram) and then spending most of the rest of its days sipping a cold one and paying the settlements on the injury lawsuits, safe in the knowledge that it’s the only game in town. Now that a formidable rival is threatening to put it out of business, it must ask itself: what does TikTok have that I don’t? We ripped off literally everything, but they’ve still got the kids — hey, what about those kids cracking skulls in the parking lot?

Welcome to KrunkTown, aka Reels, aka the future of Facebook.

I believe in my heart that Facebook’s/Instagram’s Reels strategy hinges on being the rules-free zone. Here you can find users walking on glass shards, a guy inhaling a fire extinguisher, multiple generations vaping to their hearts’ content, another spraying a middle schooler on the neck with deodorant (which, when left on bare skin, has reportedly caused at least one person to suffer extreme burns).

The test of Instagram’s permissiveness was the Milk Crate Challenge, the end-of-summer blow-out involving summiting towers of milk crates and spilling brains on pavement. TikTok banned it soon after it took off, removing the hashtag and search term — don’t even think about so much as searching “milk crate” on the platform. (Though, admittedly and as always, the search auto-populates with “milk crat challeng” and “milk challenge,” which will lead you there.)

Still, Instagram leaves it right out in the open; type in “milk crate challenge,” hit enter, and you won’t find “#milkcratechallenge,” singular. But you can choose from “#milkcratechallenges,” “#milkcratechallengefails,” “#milkcrates” and users, @milkcratechallenge_official, @milk_crate_challenge, @milkcratefunnyvid, etc. TikTok can at least credibly claim that kids snuck in with milk crats, and Facebook is leaving the backdoor propped.

Scenes from the licks. Note that these Reels videos came from TikTok. (Image: Instagram/Gizmodo) Scenes from the licks. Note that these Reels videos came from TikTok. (Image: Instagram/Gizmodo)

While I eagerly anticipated Instagram’s next fuck up, the Wall Street Journal published extensive proof that Instagram is willing to sacrifice the young. The platform, more heavily focused on body image than its peers, sadistically turned a blind eye to internal reports showing that Instagram content exacerbated body dysmorphia for 32 per cent of girls and that 13 per cent of British girls suffering from suicidal ideation attributed their thoughts of self-harm to the platform. And, the Journal pointed out, Facebook’s future depends on Instagram, where it has a far more sizable share of daily users under 22 (40 per cent) than Facebook (21 per cent, according to Statistica). Another Wall Street Journal piece this week found that it intentionally allowed millions of popular users to break its rules. When it gets caught, it’ll appoint someone else to be the bad cop.

Compare this to TikTok, which errs on the side of bans, for better or worse. It’s not ethical or safe; it just makes TikTok at least appear to be the hardass to Instagram’s high school cig hookup.

Days later, enter what has been dubbed “devious licks.” The latest viral stunt is to see how much school property you can pilfer and destroy (namely, the toilets). By Wednesday, “devious licks” had vanished from TikTok’s search, and the links my colleague Jody Serrano included in her story on the trend — to stolen projectors, plastic spoons, microscopes, and paper towel holders — were all dead.

But at this moment, on Reels, high schoolers (mostly-reposted from TikTok) are absolutely trashing the place. One kid’s ripping a sink off the wall, and another’s recording the high school principal’s voice over the PA offering a $US500 ($687) bounty for the kid who ripped a sink off the wall. Urinals, all missing. Caution tape spanning bathroom doors. A kid sitting behind a school bus steering wheel at night with the headlights on. The sheer thrill of annihilation because it’s optional.

We have yet to see whether Instagram buckles to the school authorities, but I can’t think of a more perfect visual representation of Facebook. We’d rather you drink in the house! Here are the car keys.

Separately, I look forward to seeing how TikTok deals with beaning while preserving BeanTok.