Text memes are taking over Instagram


LOS ANGELES – Last month, singer Courtney Love, who is a keen observer of social media trends, posted a cryptic post to Instagram.

“A lot of people don’t understand Gen-Z,” she wrote. “I think they’re funnier than any other generation I’ve ever known.”

Ms. Love’s Instagram post was accompanied by a blurry photo of herself and a gallery of memes captured on the unrelated and messy screen, filled with absurd text superimposed on random photos. Ms Love praised several accounts that posted such content and highlighted even more on Wednesday, saying they “made her think of memes.”

Ms Love was imitating and complimenting some sort of social media post that is now sweeping Instagram. Known in Internet slang as shitposting, this style of posting involves people post low quality pictures, videos or comments online. On Instagram, that means barring the feeds of people with seemingly blind content, often accompanied by humorous or confessional comments.

A growing ecosystem of Instagram accounts have embraced this text-rich style of posting, which exploded in popularity among Gen Z users during the pandemic. The trend has transformed Instagram, the photo and video-based app owned by Facebook, into a network of microblogs and a destination for written expression.

Many of these Instagram accounts, with absurd names like @ripclairo, @ botoxqueen.1968, and @carti_xcx, can seem random to the casual observer. Still, there are some similarities between the accounts. Almost all feature screenshots of text in photos, taken using the Whisper anonymous confessions app, or Instagram’s “Create” mode, which allows people to design text messages on pictures. gradient backgrounds. The posts are also interspersed with uncredited images, viral videos, and humorous content.

“You just posted your thoughts,” said Mia Morongell, 20, creator of the @lifes.a.bender Instagram account, which has garnered more than 134,000 followers. “It’s like Twitter, but for Instagram. It’s like a blog where you post personal thoughts and feelings.

For years, Twitter has served that purpose, with the most engaging tweets repackaged and reposted by memes and influencers on Instagram. Twitter, recognizing this change, created its own Instagram account in 2017 and made it easy for users to share tweets as Instagram stories.

But Twitter posts have a 280 character limit. And for Gen Z users, the combination of text, tools like the Whisper app and Instagram Create mode have blended into a viral chemistry that resonates with their age group.

“If you see someone following a memes page where they usually tweet, they have a different sense of humor than Gen Z would consider cool,” said Faris Ibrahim, 18, who posts in this style on her Instagram page @puddle_boot.

In a recent article, Tanisha Chetty, 15, who runs Instagram page @ life.is.not.a.soup, posted an image of a mattress in a room covered in graffiti. There was a message superimposed on it, in big black and white text, that said, “We should worry less about mental help.” Girl, go crazy! You are valid. While the page only has 5,644 subscribers, the post has racked up nearly 30,000 likes and thousands of comments.

Those pages grew during the pandemic as young people took to Instagram to exteriorize their innermost identities and seek connection, said Amanda Brennan, senior director of trends and memes librarian at XX Artists, a social media agency. . “They are very representative of the teenagers who have to spend the last year communicating only via the Internet,” she said.

Creators who have adopted this style of posting have seen the number of subscribers skyrocket. The @on_a_downward_spiral page has doubled to nearly half a million subscribers in the past six months, while the @ joan.of.arca account has grown 250% in the past two months to over 14,100 followers, according to Instagram data.

Installations of Whisper, the app that emerged about five years ago as a way for people to share secrets anonymously, have also surged, according to analytics company SensorTower.

For Instagram, the change has been a godsend as it battles with TikTok, the abbreviated video app, for young users. While TikTok has seeded many memes into popular culture, more recent memes – such as “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss,” a phrase meant to poke fun at the millennial culture – gained popularity early on among wealthy Instagram pages. in text before generalizing on TikTok.

“Instagram Create mode posts are definitely what is currently for 18-23 year olds,” said Shaden Ahadi, 21, who co-leads Instagram @mybloodyvirginia with several friends. “People who were regular TikTok users are using Instagram more.”

The shift to high-text memes on Instagram started about a year ago, users said.

At the start of the pandemic last summer, screenshots of people’s overly serious Facebook status updates became popular on meme accounts, which they laughed at. But many young users said they didn’t like having to log into Facebook to create or find status updates.

Instead, some of them have turned to the Whisper app, which allows anyone to quickly post text to an image that can be generated or downloaded automatically from your phone. Others have used Instagram’s Create Mode tools, which also make it easy to post a text with just a few clicks. Confessional and overly personal messages paired with seemingly unrelated imagery allowed for an extra layer of humor and irony.

“The dissonance between photo and text on Whisper is what appeals to people,” said Anna Mariani, 19, a designer who co-leads Instagram page @ this.and.a.blaernt.

Whisper did not respond to requests for comment.

Ricky Sans, Instagram’s chief strategic partner for memes, said the Create Mode tools weren’t designed for memes with a lot of text, but “we like to see the creativity to reinterpret a tool to help expression and communication “.

Still, some meme makers said as their pages became more popular, Instagram was absent. Jackie Kendall, 20, said she had two even accounts banned by the app – she was not told why – and was appealing a third ban.

“I couldn’t tell if Instagram was just going really tough or if people were targeting my posts and reporting them,” she said. “I think Instagram needs to do a much better job of understanding and communicating with memes pages.”

The relationship between the meme makers and Instagram has long been strained. In 2019, Instagram memes attempted to unionize to force the company to better respond to their support requests and issues like bans. (Mr. Sans was hired later that year.)

In April, Instagram hosted a “meme summit,” where Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, answered questions from creators. Yet few text-rich memes pages have said they have heard from the company since, despite efforts to contact the platform.

In a statement, Instagram said, “We hear and sympathize with their concerns and aim to partner with as many meme makers as possible to ensure they receive quality support.”

Many text-rich memes have said they’ve come together to support each other.

“We have memes families,” said Misha Takeo, 16, who manages the @kawaiicuteidols account. Established creators, known as “nepotist parents”, form networks where they mentor, repost, and tag smaller creators known as “nepotist babies”.

Some users have also built their own audiences from cleverly written comments below the posts of memes pages. Known as mega commentators, they went viral in the pages of memes in Instagram’s feed algorithm.

Nate Robbin, 20, a college student in Florida, said he had commented on high-text memes on Instagram for eight months and always had the best comment on posts from “every community’s major player.” He called himself “the niche Internet micro celebrity of the tongue-in-cheek publishing community”.

Mr. Robbin was the first to comment on Ms. Love’s most recent Instagram post referencing this community. “I said, ‘Nurse, she’s doing this thing again’,” he said. “A good comment can not only spark interaction with a post, but it can also add to the joke itself and make the post funnier as a whole. “

His comment has over 3000 likes.

Ms Brennan, the memes librarian, said the rise of Instagram’s text-rich memes pages was reminiscent of the early years of Tumblr, the blogging platform that was popular in the late 2000s and early years. from the 2010s.

“Generation Z is rediscovering the old Internet and updating it,” she said.

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