Every day, my best friend DMs me Instagram Reels of a bunch of things: cute puppies, bizarre skincare hacks, and random funny videos. The problem is I’ve seen all of them before. On TikTok.
No one likes to be that jerk that has to hold the, “you’re 10 years late to this meme” intervention. I actually think it’s swell that my bestie’s brain isn’t permanently jacked into the irony-poisoned internet. Plus, it’s not really her fault. Instagram has a bad case of trying way too hard to be TikTok, and it’s the social media equivalent of Steve Buscemi in a backwards baseball cap asking, “How do you do, fellow kids?”
The latest and worst TikTok clone of a feature that Instagram is reportedly developing is something called Vertical Instagram Stories. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Instead of tapping through features, you swipe up and down. Just like on TikTok. The feature was spotted in Instagram’s code by developer Alessandro Paluzzi on Twitter, and Instagram has since confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s an “early prototype and is not currently testing on Instagram.”
It’s not surprising that Instagram is cribbing from another social media platform. After all, it stole Stories from Snapchat and Reels is a blatantly unsuccessful TikTok knockoff. (Instagram, please, stop shoving Reels up top on the Explore tab, I’m just gonna scroll past anyway.) Given the explosive growth TikTok has seen during quarantine, it’s not surprising that Instagram might be feeling nervous.
The thing is, it’s wholly unnecessary. Instagram has its own charms. It’s a good place to document photos, browse various products and fashions, look at pretty photos of literally anything you can imagine, chat with friends, and find ridiculous celebrity gossip if that’s your thing. Sure, Instagram feeds are often hyper curated, but Stories actually makes sense in this context. You can post more candid photos, polls, and videos without cluttering up your main feed—and if it’s terribly embarrassing, well, they disappear after 24 hours.
Those are Instagram’s strengths! You don’t go to TikTok for the same thing. Personally speaking, I go on TikTok when my mind is too tired to process anything other than 15-60 second bits of snackable video. It’s addictive, the videos are sometimes deranged, and the For You page can either be delightful or utterly brain-melting. It’s junk food for my tired brain. But as a platform, TikTok isn’t perfect. Spend enough time on the app and you’ll find influencers directing their followers to Instagram, saying variations of, “So it’s hard to fit all of this into sixty seconds...” You’ll see it on finance TikTok, cooking TikTok, skincare TikTok, fitness TikTok—everyone and their mother has a link in their bio to their Instagram page. Giveaways are also often announced on TikTok, and then users are sent to Instagram.
Why? Because it’s easier to build a community on Instagram, for one. You can write more in the description of a post. TikTok cooks often refer to their Instagrams for full recipes because it’s hard to list ingredients, explain technique, and tell a story in such a short time. Some people use TikTok as a sort of teaser trailer for longer content hosted on another site, Instagram, or YouTube. At its core, TikTok is about whetting your appetite and sending you elsewhere.
Where am I supposed to go if Instagram becomes TikTok 2.0?
The last thing anyone needs is for Instagram to be a second-rate clone. Reels, another TikTok-esque feature, sucks because it’s clearly something the Instagram bigwigs demanded after TikTok scared them pantsless. It’s mostly bad because half of it is recycled TikTok videos and the other half doesn’t really fit within Instagram’s strengths. IGTV is also completely inane, because Instagram isn’t where I go for deep-dive videos—that’s a YouTube thing. (In fact, I’m convinced that the only person who watches IGTV content is my bestie. It’s baffling.)
Just this past November, Instagram reorganized its interface so that Reels and Shops were featured more heavily on the home screen. Reels replaced the shortcut to create posts, and Shops replaced the activity tab. It was a confusing redesign that completely upended how people were used to using the app—and plenty of folks were none too pleased. Few hit the nail quite on the head like mega-popular influencer James Charles.
It was a clearly desperate move to shove Reels down our throats, while simultaneously making everything people liked about Instagram harder to access. In trying so hard to be TikTok and mimic its success, Instagram is losing sight of what made it a fun platform to be on in the first place. If more people are flocking to TikTok from Instagram, it’s because at least TikTok plays to its strengths.
It’s cliche, but we always tell people to be themselves. Maybe Instagram needs those words of affirmation, too. No one wants Instagram to be TikTok. They want Instagram to be Instagram. It’s a wild idea, but these two platforms can actually coexist, and the popularity of one doesn’t preclude the popularity of the other. Social media platforms seem to think that we all want some Big Mega App that rolls every single cursed service into one. We have that already—it’s Facebook, and buddy, it’s the most miserable place on the internet.