The Great Instagram Purge: Chaos, Currency, and Commerciality

This week’s Internet crisis has been brought to you by The Great Instagram Purge, also known as the Instagram Rapture, the Instagram Clean-up, and the Instagram Sweep (more neologisms to come, I bet). News and entertainment outlets spent the last 24 hours competing for the most chaos-inducing headline.

News outlets react

The New York Times
The New York Times
The Independent
The Independent
The Cut
The Cut
Techgeek
Techgeek
News.com
News.com
International Business Times
International Business Times
iDigital Times
iDigital Times
Huffington Post
Huffington Post
Fox Weekly
Fox Weekly
Business Insider
Business Insider

“Teens”, “Generation Z”, or “Generation I” has been suffering an onslaught of shaming from news(-ish) coverage since the “Millennials” or “Generation Y” have graduated into other life crises. Social media addiction? Narcissistic selfies? Rich Kids of Instagram? #firstworldproblems? Funny how this serial manufactured empty frenzies are fueled by media outlets vying for the eyeballs and revenue of other cohorts who have survived the rite de passage of scorn and moral panic.

The media furore has thus far been largely focused on the top Instagram accounts (also, please see this brilliant interactive graphic by Zach Allia), namely, mainstream/Hollywood celebrities. Many have taken huge hits (into the millions) to their Follower counts, with a few being shamed into deleting their Instagram accounts all together after facing public ridicule and accusations of having bought “fake followers”.

But what about the everyday user?

Everyday users react

Users are angry. Users are upset. Users are turning to Instagram to commiserate with others on a host of hashtags. Some are even protesting by unfollowing Instagram’s @instagram account (meta).

But where emotions run high among Internet users who are socialized into innovation and virality, all the glorious reaction memes abound. Angst aside, some of these are pretty hilarious renderings of early reactions, coping mechanisms, and restitutive plans.

Instagrammers sure can poke fun at themselves. (The Internet is so witty. I love you, Internet.)

But what to make of all of this?

The Great Instagram Purge and its associated mayhem has reaffirmed the value of web artifacts and the distinction of social media statistics as status markers. Followers, Friends, Likes, RTs, and Favourites (what other web vernacular am I missing? I need to catch up) are personal property, valuable commodities, and affective investments that constitute one’s identity. And these numbers translate into a host of attachments including group membership, peer acceptance, relationality, and popularity.

Ironically, this mass panic has been capitalized by the very accounts Instagram sought to weed out to begin with: the spam bots strike back (*insert dramatic music*).

Spam and scam react

A surge of new spam and bot accounts appeared to pander to users’ hysteric fears that their accounts would be deleted in The Purge. Internet rumours seem to have such massive strongholds on a generation that has (ironically) been schooled on Google and Wikipedia. Permutations of significations indicating some semblance of ‘verification’ and ‘2014’ emerged by the dozen. Panicky users began mass regramming screenshots to ‘save’ their accounts.

To be fair, users caught up in this panic cycle were merely taking stabs at last ditch attempts to protect their property/assets/labour of love/status markers.

image_87

Wonder how the Instagram management felt about this? They began wiping out these spam/bot accounts and hashtags, but this only encouraged hashtag mutation.

But there are another group of Instagram users for whom The Purge had impact beyond the fame game.

Microcelebrities react

Consider the Internet famous Bloggers, YouTubers, Tweeters, and Instagrammers in your online world. They are more than your average savvy social media users. These are small-scale celebrities born-of-the-web, aka social media microcelebrities

For these users whose bread and butter is hinged on the numbers game, the repercussions are also financial. (Simple math for the uninitiated: More Followers = Larger audience reach = Command more pay for serving Instagram ads).

Some microcelebrities seemed to rejoice at The Great Instagram Purge for removing duplicate accounts or imposters who were cashing in on their fame. Singaporean personalities like TylerHikaru and JamieTYJ are among the many social media microcelebrities who have to address identity theft on various platforms regularly.

Many microcelebrities announced their ‘drop count’ to Followers on various platforms. Others encouraged Followers to report on their ‘loss’ in a bid to commiserate/interact/spark off some discussion.

image_44

photo

Veteran social media microcelebrities who emerged relatively unscathed (read: presumably did not buy ‘fake followers’ and have genuine followers/fans) used this opportunity to encourage colleagues to rethink and preserve their work ethic.

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It seems the key word of Instagram Ethics Day in this region’s social media commerce is ‘Integrity‘. That, or be prepared to face much public embarrassment.

On a side note, I chanced upon this blurb from Instagram’s community guidelines while reading up on The Purge:

“When you engage in self-promotional behavior of any kind on Instagram it makes people who have shared that moment with you feel sad inside. This guideline includes repetitive comments, as well as service manipulation in order to self-promote, and extends to commercial spam comments, such as discount codes or URLs to websites. We ask that you keep your interactions on Instagram meaningful and genuine.”

self-promotional behavior?
service manipulation?
commercial spam comments?
discount codes?
URLs?
meaningful?
genuine?

Seeing as how my current area of research investigates social media microcelebrity, all these words naturally sounded alarm bells in my head. The Great Instagram Purge has incidentally fed into my (ongoing) PhD dissertation that is tracing and analyzing the success of such microcelebrity.

For starters, these personalities are experts at carefully calibrating between the personal and the commercial, the private and the public, and the mundane and the spectacle.

Just how are they managing their commercial activity on Instagram without being regarded as spam? Or coming off as mere sell-outs? Another blogpost to come. Stay tuned!

PS: Featured image grabbed from Huffington Post here.

Part 2: Authenticity on Instagram
Part 3: Commerce on Instagram

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