Catherine Toth Fox: Instagram Is Having An Identity Crisis. I'm Over It - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

When I joined Instagram in 2011 — a year after it launched — I was interested in the platform’s simple approach: users sharing photos. You could add a filter to make the photo look a little better, geotag the location and tag a friend or two. But that was basically it.

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Now, Instagram is having an identity crisis — again. And I’m losing empathy for it.

When I signed up, Instagram had just over 15 million users worldwide; the platform was adding 1 million new users every two weeks. It was unprecedented growth for a social media platform, one that was started by a virtual nobody in the tech world.

Kevin Systrom, a Stanford graduate and Google alum, along with Mike Krieger, developed Burbn, an app named after the Kentucky whiskey and the predecessor to Instagram. He said, in an interview with Forbes in 2014, that he came up with the idea for a photo-sharing app because he grew up with cameras and was always snapping photos. The first-ever image shared on Instagram was Systrom’s photo of a stray dog sitting near a taco stand in Mexico.

“We worked really hard on making it really easy for people to share their lives in a beautiful way,” he said, adding toward the end, “You haven’t seen the exhaustion of social networks … We have a lot of growing to do … It’s the tip of the iceberg.”

Instagram has changed a lot since that interview. The app’s famous square-shaped photo format has expanded to include more flattering landscape and portrait options. The company introduced other features, including Stories in 2017, its answer to the then-popular SnapChat, and Shops in 2019, a virtual storefront for businesses.

Video had long eluded the social media platform. YouTube was amassing more monthly active users (still does) and TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app that became available for U.S. users in 2017, was the Big New Thing (still is).
Instagram was going the way of Meta-owned Facebook — it’s where mom and dad were hanging out. (Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012.)

Vector Illustration 3D Social Media Like Icons On Transparent Background. Design Elements for Web
Celebrities and other critics have lashed out against Instagram’s move toward videos with a “Make Instagram Instagram again” campaign. Getty Images/iStockphoto

So what did Instagram do? It reacted, as it always does. Like my 5-year-old son does.

It started IGTV — a video platform — in 2018 to compete with YouTube and, in 2020, it launched Reels, a way for users to share the kind of short (and often annoying) videos popular on TikTok.

You know, stuff like how to make an egg sandwich in a single pan using the magic of origami.

It’s not why I downloaded the Instagram app.

I want to see photos, beautiful images, pictures of adorable dogs and stunning scenery. Things I want to daydream about: languid vacations, epic surf, my childless friends having cocktails at 5 p.m. on a school night. I don’t want to scroll through videos of people lip syncing to Celine Dion or trying to twerkulate. I don’t want to hear anything when I open the Instagram app — no Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” or that weird automated text-to-speech voice that narrates videos. I just can’t.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

Just this week celebrities and IG mega-influencers Kylie Jenner (361 million followers) and Chrissy Teigen (38.6 million followers) slammed the platform for shifting its focus to videos to compete with TikTok. Jenner on Monday shared a post on her IG Stories that said “Make Instagram Instagram again. (stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends.) Sincerely, everyone.” (A petition on with that goal had more than 228,000 signatures as of Wednesday.)

It’s not everyday I agree with a Kardashian.


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Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, responded on Twitter (not Instagram) on Tuesday that the world is changing, and Instagram needs to change along with it. That includes supporting more video content and flooding your feed with what it calls “recommendations,” basically accounts you don’t follow, in an attempt to help creators you don’t know grow their reach, while pushing down the content from people you actually follow.

Mosseri admitted these are common complaints — and both features aren’t going away anytime soon.

“I need to be honest,” he said in the video, addressing the concerns about Instagram’s noticeable shift toward videos, “I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time.”

I hope Mosseri read his responses.

Some examples:

“I don’t want to watch videos on Instagram, period. I don’t want to make videos. All I want is to scroll through pleasant photos.”

“Leave Instagram the way it was. If I wanted to make or see videos I would go to TikTok.”

Even Teigen joined in: “we don’t wanna make videos Adam lol.”

And yet, here I am, scrolling through IG and seeing posts about a Hydroflask I already own and sea glass jewelry I would never buy. (Also, suddenly, my feed is full of penguin videos, which I don’t hate, but still.)

If you want your content to be seen on Instagram, you need to post videos, period. And if you want to see photos of your friend’s recent wedding or new baby or Tuesday night’s dinner, keep scrolling. Past penguins, baton twirlers, homesteaders and the dozens of other accounts you don’t follow.

Or you can do what I do: Turn off the app, take a walk, text my mom photos of my kid, connect without Instagram.

Then go to TikTok and learn how to make pesto eggs.

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

Sounds like a business opportunity for someone to create an app very much like the old IG.

Rob · 1 year ago

Who cares? I don’t-I could care less about everyone’s fake life and I have no desire to share my beautiful days-who cares ? Not me

Swimmerjean · 1 year ago

Around late 2018 and early 2019 I was so tired of the constant upgrades and additions on Instagram, I posted less and less. I think in 2019, I had posted 4 photos. Then in 2020, I posted 1 photo. 2021, I started cleaning up my photos and feed, slowly deleting photos. At the end of 2021, I so disliked Instagram, I deleted all my photos and decided to take 2022 off. Now, almost 8 months in, I jumped on to see what was new, ugh. Before I logged out, I used Instagram mostly to follow small businesses to see what they're up to and what they have new in stock. On this latest log in, I am now seeing my friends and family doing the weirdest things for attention. It's really unnerving. Odd mimicry and voice overs. What is social media doing to us? Our poor brains. As the writer stated, I really enjoyed just the pictures. But, I guess that doesn't make money. I'll probably delete Instagram before the end of the year, it has outlived its usefulness. I will probably not join another social media platform. I'm trying to use my phone mindfully. Scrolling all day can't be good for us. I could be reading a book or working out, anything besides mindless scrolling.

AlohaJ · 1 year ago

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