In March of 2017, Instagram created an “in-app shopping destination where people can discover products and brands they love.” This new feature was intended to help brands promote their products more effectively through social media. Instead, users got a useless scroll of items that businesses have tagged for sale.
In May 2020, Instagram phased in a new app layout to optimize small business support during the pandemic (A great motive for the addition. Proud of you, Instagram). But the update completely ruined the layout of the app.
The average user might not have noticed much change until recently, but Instagram took what used to be a way to connect with others and turned it into a glorified online shopping experience.
Where users used to see their likes and comments, there’s now a separate page designed to get users to buy products. Each item has supposedly been curated to your taste, but what that really means is that Instagram tracks your likes and dislikes through stories and posts you look at.
The Center for Humane Technology, an organization that “aims to shift the mindset from which persuasive technology systems are built,” has warned us that “tech platforms make billions of dollars keeping us clicking, scrolling, and sharing.” And that’s exactly what the new shops feature does. It keeps us clicking and scrolling through things we wouldn’t have considered purchasing otherwise.
“In the attention extraction economy,” the Center for Humane Technology says, “a human is worth more when we are depressed, outraged, polarized, and addicted.”
Instagram exploits this idea through its new shops feature; they benefit from our flaws. With each scroll, they see money signs instead of a human being, which is a problem.
Is this what we need right now? No! We are in the middle of a pandemic, Instagram! People do not need to spend more time, money, and effort on items that we don’t need. We are already on our screens enough, Instagram, and this feature only increases it.
This new feature steers Instagram away from helping people stay connected in a crisis and instead aims to get people to buy more stuff. Instagram should be a way to look at our friends’ pictures, not another place to be flooded with advertisements.
This disappointing new feature creates time-consuming scrolls that would better be used in many other ways. What if Instagram used this time to spread awareness about the disastrous effects of Social Media? What if Instagram used this time to help foster real connections? Instagram, use your platform better.