Instagram has a notorious reputation for stealing features from smaller, specialized apps and integrating them into its platform. In 2016, Instagram released “Stories,” a clear copycat of Snapchat Stories, albeit an inferior one. The most blatant thievery surfaced amid the Trump Administration’s threat to ban Tiktok from the United States if Bytedance, Ltd didn’t divest the app to a U.S. company.
We could dig deep into the conspiracy theories surrounding Trump’s threat to bad Tiktok in the U.S., but really it boils down to a combination of 3 main points:
It’s no secret that every Internet-related part of our lives are data-mined by every social media platform. This is a basic part of the algorithm that boils down the never ending amount of content to stuff that most likely will interest you. However, red flags shot up when allegation surfaced that Tiktok was sharing information with the Chinese government. It’s a long discussion that spans a year and a half timeline. You can get detailed an overview here.
While Bytedance emphasized that all data was stored on servers within the U.S. and denied sharing with the Chinese government, a tenuous relationship between our two countries over the past year resulted in a skepticism that can’t be overcome.
Tiktok may have started as a platform to share dance videos, but it’s quickly evolved into a political machine among America’s youth. A number of Tiktok users pranked the Trump Tulsa Rally by registering for tickets and not showing up. This alone is rather ‘meh’; however, Trump’s campaign managers bragged about the 1 million registrants leading up to the rally. Needless to say it didn’t look good when only 6,200 people actually showed up, while Tiktok users are laughing at the president’s folly.
Between August and September, no one knew if Tiktok was coming or going. Three American companies submitted proposals to Bytedance–Microsoft, Oracle, and Walmart. Bytedance rejected Microsoft in favor of Oracle’s proposal, with Walmart making continued attempts to insert itself in the mix. Though we have crossed Trump’s September 20 deadline, Bytedance and Oracle’s agreement is still tentative and American’s still have access to the app.
Journalists speculate that Trump’s threat to ban Tiktok was meant to broker a better deal for the acquisition of the app by an American company. There is also a side conspiracy theory that Trump also initiated the threat to make room for Mark Zuckerberg to increase the popularity of Facebook, an app that has done the least fact-checking, labeling, or removing of Trump’s messages compared to other apps.
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Honestly, I think Bytedance is biding its time to see if Trump is still president after November 4th. And while there’s little proof that Trump and Zuckerberg hold actually have regard for each other, Instagram’s corresponding release of Reels further aroused suspicions.
I hold no qualms stating my dislike for Instagram. As much as people rage against Facebook for allowing hateful, misleading posts, Instagram’s business practices are absolutely shady. There are dozens of Tiktok skits showing “conversations” between the different social media platforms about Instagram’s reputation for stealing app features. These skits show Facebook attempting to stay out of fray while Instagram defends its actions as providing an alternative for Tiktok users once the ban goes into affect.
These skits aren’t too far off reality. Though Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012, the app’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger remained in key positions until 2018 when they resigned. During that time, Instagram added Stories to their platform, an idea they admitted blatantly stealing from Snapchat in a 2019 interview. Though Stories was later added to Facebook, it was added after it was well-established on Instagram.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Instagram is a repeat offender. It’s new leadership rose through the ranks of Facebook and Instagram, and are well-versed in Zuckerberg’s business practices. The development of Reels started long before the height of Trump’s war with Tiktok, and since Snapchat still lives on, I suspect people are becoming desensitized to Instagram’s habitual theft.
Whether or not Tiktok users jump ship for Reels isn’t a matter of preference as much as survival. Tiktok users are increasingly promoting their other social media channels until a deal between Bytedance and Oracle (and/or Walmart) is complete. This hasn’t stopped the Tiktok skits between social media apps criticizing Reels as a weak imitation that initially only allows 15 (now 30) second clips while providing limited editing capabilities. All the cool things you can do in Tiktok like mixing video and photos or timing the appearance of text, stickers, and effects, you can’t do in Reels. At least not yet.
Reels provides a safe starting point for those who want to learn the basics of this type of storytelling. If you look at it in this light, Reels will carve out a place in the social media landscape even if Tiktok avoids getting banned in the U.S. Since Instagram is less polarizing than other social media apps, users will most likely receive less negative feedback to their endeavors compared to Tiktok. And once a Reels producer graduates to Tiktok’s established platform, Instagram will still remain as a legitimate platform to promote creative and thoughtful content.
Ultimately, if you are all about denouncing Facebook for their business practices, feel free to wrap Instagram in that package. It is one thing to develop original features. It’s quite another to justify stealing them.
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