Every change that Instagram has introduced since it went mainstream has been a step backwards for photographers. It's reached the point that, although I still post a few times a week, my love for the platform died a long time ago, and watching it stumble towards nothing but selfies and adverts is heartbreaking. Here are my biggest gripes, in no particular order.
The notification system is next to useless. Not being able to filter out comments from likes makes the tab itself completely unusable and why this hasn't been addressed is incomprehensible. What's worse is that if you have a couple of other accounts set up on your device, there are some notifications (on the iPhone at least) that you simply cannot turn off.
The switch from a chronological feed to one driven by algorithms was the first nail in the coffin, marking the start of the platform's demise as a means of sharing photographs. At first, I didn't mind too much but recently my feed has become garbage, gradually worsening with each month. Of the 480-odd people that I follow, I see the same 30-40 users, and almost nothing else. If I browse for 10 minutes and then pick up my phone for another scroll an hour later, it only takes a few minutes before I start to see the same posts again. Another example: about six months ago, I started following @fursty, an outdoor/wilderness photographer with a very distinctive style and more than a million followers. He posts about four or five times a week. I've yet to see a single one of his photographs in my feed. Instead, I'm stuck with the same 30-40 users mentioned above. How the algorithm has ruined my feed so comprehensively is really quite impressive, and I know I'm not the only one suffering.
Here's a quick sample of my feed: 3 hours ago, 3 days ago, 9 hours ago, 2 days ago, 4 hours ago, 2 days ago, advert, 9 hours ago, 3 hours ago, 3 days ago, 2 days ago, 10 hours ago, 5 hours ago, advert.
Seeing posts from three days ago (occasionally more) is confusing. Sometimes people are announcing time-sensitive information which I respond to with a comment, only to discover that the moment is long gone.
Counting hashtags is an almighty pain in the backside. Adding a "number of hashtags used" counter would require very few lines of code but it seems that no one at Instagram is particularly interested in making your life easier. The consequence of exceeding the completely arbitrary figure of 30 hashtags — a number that you stumble upon by accident — is a post with no caption. This mysterious punishment for breaking this mysterious rule is as frustrating as it is random.
Boosted Posts Kill Engagement
Last year I paid for my first Instagram boosted post in order to advertise some parkour photography workshops that I was running. It's worth noting that once you have paid for a boosted post, from then on, all of your non-boosted posts will take a nosedive. This is a ploy to make you miss the level of engagement that you once had and nudge you towards paying out again. If you've never paid Instagram money, give it a second thought before you decide it's worth taking the hit.
This Post Is Performing Better than 85 Percent of Other Posts
Instagram makes sure to tell me when a certain post is doing better than 85 percent of all of my other posts. Bizarrely, it seems that every single time I post, that post is doing better than 85 percent of all of my other posts. This mathematical impossibility starts to grate after a while.
"Nice pic!" "Cool!" "This is the best one!" Spam comments have dropped off significantly since Instagram killed off Instagress, but they're still out there, and they're still infuriating.
What Instagram conveniently forgets to remind its users is that you can only upload content that is your own. This means that every time an account reposts an image or a video without getting permission in advance, it is breaching copyright. There is no in-app repost function because Instagram knows that it's at odds with its own terms of service. Instead, they've passively permitted a culture of reposting that's built on the assumption that everyone is entitled to use everyone else's content.
Recommended posts. Give me strength. As if our feeds weren't awful enough as it is — a brutally narrow selection of users, an excess of adverts, and a confusing lack of chronology — they are now being diluted further with posts that we didn't know we didn't want to see. The response on social media has been far from great but you can bet that there are more than enough teenagers on the platform who will lap up this new feature to the extent that the opinions of Instagram's more discerning users (i.e., photographers and filmmakers) are completely irrelevant. What's worse is that Instagram's AI has no means of identifying freebooted content so you can be sure that "community hubs" flogging badly designed t-shirts and taking sneaky bungs for sponsored posts will benefit massively, meaning that real photographers suffer even more than they did before.
Which brings me to freebooted content. Instagram doesn't care that countless people's images are being used without permission, in breach of its own terms of service, and lining the pockets of unscrupulous entrepreneurs who have realized that this is much easier than printing money and has zero consequences. Freebooted images and videos are viewed hundreds of millions, if not billions, times every day. If you see someone else's work being freebooted, reporting it yourself is impossible. Reporting your own work being stolen is a deliberately confusing and tortuous process. What's worse is that Instagram even promotes many of these posts in their "videos you might like" feature. Fortunately for Instagram, very few of their users are photographers or filmmakers who understand how their work is being exploited as otherwise people would be leaving the platform in droves.
Instagrammers, Not Photographers
At its inception, Instagram was a platform for photographers and enthusiasts. By contrast, it is now a platform for Instagrammers and advertisers. Unless you've already carved yourself a following of tens of thousands of fans, you'll need to play a very specific game of posting once or twice a day, keeping up to date with the most effective hashtags, creating endless stories, and commenting on other users' posts. Content is now secondary to strategy.
Despite all this, being the hypocrite that I am, I will keep posting a couple of times a week, and getting that brief thrill of validation and dopamine when I see the number of likes creeping up. Let me know your biggest gripes in the comments below, and remember: just because you use something for free that benefits you greatly, doesn't mean that you can't moan about it.