You would be hard pressed to find any teenager without an Instagram. So I am sure many of you had a ‘mini freak out’ when you learned Instagram will be changing its feed. Accounts with large followings immediately began to accost their fans to turn on post notifications for their accounts so ‘you won’t miss any of their posts’. The exact changes Instagram will be implementing in a few months include changing your home feed to display popular posts at the top instead of posts in chronological order (with the most recent post appearing first). Other then disrupting your accustomed attachment to the current familiarity of Instagram, these alterations will produce widespread ramifications on the social media platform.
Two major trends will result from these changes: the first being more popular accounts will gain more exposure. Depending on the number of accounts you follow, you may or may not see every single post appearing in your feed- the posts you do not see have no chance of receiving a like from you. Due to Instagram’s algorithm, the more likes a posts receives the more promotion it receives in the explore feed and activity tab of Instagram (this is not the only factor the algorithm takes into account). Therefore, likes received correlates to the growth (in followers) of Instagram accounts because the greater the exposure of the account the more people who have a chance of following the account. After these changes are implemented, popular Instagram accounts, who receive higher base likes then other accounts, will be presented to you at the top of your feed. The greater chance of these posts being seen results in an increase in the amount of likes they receive from their followers. This increase in likes will thereby increase their exposure and in turn grow the account’s following and popularity. Over time, Instagram niches (such as modeling, fan-pages, and art) will see a concentration of their growth around a small number of already popular accounts, who benefit the most from the previously described cycle.
Instagram’s changes will benefit accounts that are already popular, but this benefit will occur at the expense of less popular accounts: the second major trend. Small accounts, who do not receive many base likes, will be placed lower on your Instagram feed and in turn will have a reduced chance of you seeing them and bestowing them with a like which could increase their exposure and growth. Decreasing the opportunity for small accounts to grow results in a limiting of competition; due to this, new accounts trying to start out will be faced with a much greater challenge in the fight to gain attention and become popular. Limited competition also results in a product that does not fulfill its peak potential (be it your friends’ selfie or the posts of a photography account you follow). The intention of Instagram’s changes is to show their users the best possible posts first in order to enhance their users experience, but this in turn limits competition and therefore discourages large accounts from producing better content to maintain their popularity. Competition promotes individuals to produce their very best posts in order to compete for attention but larger accounts, who will become more popular naturally due to these changes, lose these incentives to produce higher quality posts and the higher quality posts of smaller accounts are not able to gain the recognition their merit deserves. So in the short term, you may see more exciting posts at the top of your feed (be it from your friends or popular accounts), but over time the quality of your feed will be inferior to the potential quality of your overall feed before the changes were implemented.
Surprisingly, the Instagram update presents us teenagers and its users with a curious ethical dilemma. Do we support this change or will we not like it? That is up for each and every one of you to decide. Do we sacrifice competition in order to grow the popularity of accounts we already know many people like? Your opinion on this subject extends much further then the screen of your phone. The pretense of these questions manifest themselves in our political system: especially in the degree and manner our government regulates the economy.
Over the history of our country we have seen a battle between laissez-faire economics (no government intervention) and economic liberalism. Universities and towers stand as testaments to the vast fortunes accumulated by monopoly seeking businessmen such as Carnegie and Vanderbilt- antitrust laws still enacted today stand as their antithetical. The progressive politicians at the turn of the century valued competition over the monopolistic tendencies of these American giants. As the US expanded into a superpower, labor laws enacting minimum wages, unions, and regulations began to favor cooperations who can more adeptly conform to changing policy. Banking and the stock market provided more and more capital to large business and so began the birth a McDonalds on every corner and a Walmart replacing local owned general stores. Cooperations, with their infrastructure, have helped increase the standard of living in America by expanding access to certain standardized goods and services, but these chain institutions limit competition and create a hostile environment to local businesses entering the market. Yet, prosperity and pop culture have been propagated throughout this country by the creation of the very same placelessness many of us despise as we travel from city to city seeing a Starbucks in every one.
Should the government enact laws that will limit the popularity of these large cooperations and enhance the competition and innovation at the local level? Should the government enact laws that favor cooperations and as a consequence make it harder for small businesses to gain larger profits and expand? The most erudite of scholars will each provide you with a different answer and each will provide a sound argument. The fact of the matter remains, that in a democracy, the citizenry vote to elect leaders and these leaders, listening to the will of the people, will implement economic policies. As an individual- as a future voter- you must weigh the pros and cons of each economic policy and the upcoming Instagram changes provide the ideal microcosm to test your beliefs. After the initial shock, will you enjoy the new transformation of one of your favorite social media outlets or will you feel like its not as good as it could be? After you made your decision, apply your new found opinion to the economic policies governing every business around you- even the one which created Instagram.