Hello, friends. My name is Kate Knibbs, and I’m a senior writer at WIRED covering culture and media. I’ll be your substitute Plaintext guide this week, as my colleague Steven Levy has generously lent me his newsletter. “Have fun doing my newsletter, please don’t go off on a tangent about the Kardashian-Jenner Industrial Complex,” he said before heading out, if I remember correctly. My bad!
The Plain View
Instagram sucks now. What was once a repository for photos of friends and family is now a junkyard stuffed with knockoff TikToks known as “Reels.” Looking at Reels is almost like looking at TikTok, except instead of an algorithm pulling videos to precision-match your interests, Reels are a chaotic hodgepodge of acquaintances selling gut health supplements for multilevel marketing schemes, strangers pushing sponsored content, amateur stand-up performances, advertisements, and—if you’re a parent—grim videos of sick babies. Sometimes there’s an occasional cute-dog clip, but all in all, Reels are an embarrassing attempt to copycat a rival social network that only serves to dilute Instagram’s appeal and alienate its users.
This isn’t an original complaint—in fact, a horde of pissed-off influencers have been stewing about this all week. Reality star Kylie Jenner reposted a viral plea from a photographer named Tati: “MAKE INSTAGRAM INSTAGRAM AGAIN. (stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends.) SINCERELY, EVERYONE.” Her older sisters Kim and Kourtney Kardashian reposted the meme shortly thereafter. The Kardashian-Jenners have even more reason to be irked by this change than I do; after all, they use Instagram to sell themselves and their wares, so a shift in its functionality poses a threat to their multimillion dollar business interests in addition to their ability to see cute photos of their friends.
Prior to this kerfuffle, Kylie most recently made news for taking unbelievably wasteful 14-minute private jet rides for fun. I do not endorse her behavior. But when she’s right, she’s right. And, as Verge reporter Ashley Carman pointed out, Kylie has a track record for tanking social platforms with her criticism. In 2018, when she casually noted that she stopped using Snapchat after its redesign, the company lost $1.3 billion in market value. For social networks, if you’ve lost Kylie, you’re in trouble. Should a 24-year-old climate villain have this much influence? No. But she does.
And now Instagram is in crisis mode. Adam Mosseri uploaded a frantic-eyed front-facing vlog the day after Kylie’s post, attempting to convince people that the shift to video is good, actually. Adam, Adam, Adam. Don’t piss on our legs and tell us it’s raining!