Instagram’s commercial priorities: what has the app become?

Picture this: it’s 2011. You’ve just downloaded a new app called Instagram. You post a vignette-filtered picture of a sunset and get 7 likes: you are happy. Instagram still is, by and large, a photo and video sharing social network, but a recent update has shown users what Instagram has been slowly integrating for the past couple of years – the push to spend money. 

Two months ago, Instagram’s layout underwent major changes. The shortcut to create a post was replaced by reels (longer-form videos, as seen on competitor sites like TikTok), and the shortcut for post notifications was replaced by a brand new shopping tab. As a result, the ability to post content has been shunted to the top of the screen to prioritise the app’s newest features. 

The decision to replace the notification tab with a shopping tab is certainly a bold one. After ten years of users instinctively tapping to access their notifications, the replacement with a shopping tab means that users will unwittingly find themselves in the world of products when all they want to do is check their like count. 

The app has transformed, in more ways than one, into a survival of the fittest. There is a prioritising of attractive influencers who can push products. Some of the biggest influencers on the platform can earn hundreds of thousands for advertising specific brands: the social platform has transformed into one that encourages buying and selling, a far cry from its origins as a simple photography sharing network. 

When a celebrity like Kylie Jenner, lauded for her looks, advertises detox teas or hair vitamins while flaunting a body shape the echelons of society ache to emulate, there is an incentive to buy the products in question. When a pair of trousers, a jacket, or a slinky dress can be photographed with such aesthetic precision on a desirable body, users are inevitably drawn into spending money on items they otherwise might not have bought. 

Ultimately, this change is just another facet of the capitalist hellscape we live in. If Instagram sees potential for profit, profit will be squeezed out of the platform until there is nothing left to gain. The newest update does not prioritise uninhibited, joyful photo sharing; it prioritises buyers. 

Instagram may soon come to realise that it is not buyers who sustain their network, but the people who post what they love, without ulterior motive. With the recent update, they risk losing this. 


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Ally Fowler

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January 2022
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