From meme creators to the Kardashians, Instagram users have been vocal this week that their feeds are too saturated with irrelevant content. As Instagram's parent company Meta chases TikTok's astronomical growth in short-form video, the app's chief Adam Mosseri has even gone as far as saying that Instagram's priority is no longer photos. Plus, users feel like they're mostly seeing algorithmically recommended content from accounts they don't follow.
The most followed women on Instagram, Kylie Jenner and her sister Kim Kardashian shared a petition this week that said, “Stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends.” Jenner once single-handedly drove down Snap stock because she said she didn’t open Snapchat anymore, so it's probably not coincidental timing that the next day, Mosseri posted a video addressing widespread user complaints.
If you thought that all of the backlash against Instagram's changes would drive its executives to change course, you were wrong. On Meta's quarterly earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg addressed the recent drama around algorithmic recommendations on Instagram.
"Social feeds are going from being driven primarily by the people and accounts you follow to increasingly also being driven by AI recommending content that you'll find interesting from across Facebook and Instagram, even if you don't follow those creators," he said.
Zuckerberg said that right now, about 15% of content in our Facebook feeds are served by Meta's AI. That number is even a little bit higher on Instagram.
"We expect these numbers to double by the end of next year," he said. That means that over 30% of our feeds on Instagram and Facebook will filled with content from accounts we don't actually follow. It's no wonder that the Kardashians want Instagram to stop trying to be TikTok.
Fortunately, if you want to just see photos from your friends, you do have some agency -- on Instagram, you can switch to a feed of only people you follow by tapping the Instagram logo in the top left corner of your screen, then clicking "Following." Meanwhile, Facebook took a step this week to split the newsfeed into “Home,” a TikTok-like feed of recommended content, and “Feeds,” which shows you posts from your friends, groups and accounts you follow. So, it's not impossible to see your friends' content -- but it's frustrating for users that algorithmically served content is the default.
"I want to be clear that we are still ultimately a social company focused on helping people connect," he said. It's a bad sign in itself that the founder of Facebook felt the need to clarify that his company is a social one.
Why are Facebook and Instagram so hell-bent on showing us strangers' Reels instead of our friends' brunch? Reels is a big potential money-maker for Meta in a time when its revenue is starting to decline. Zuckerberg announced today that Meta has made more than a $1 billion annual run rate on Reels ads. Plus, the amount of time we spend watching Reels has increased 30% since last quarter, which is likely to woo advertisers -- but maybe the cause of that increase is that we're being served so many Reels by the algorithm.
So, who cares about the average user as long as stakeholders are happy?