The Politics of Instagram: Exploring Algorithms, Profits, and Scandals

If you’ve been on Instagram recently, you’ve probably seen some accounts consistently pop up on your feed. Due to ever-changing algorithms and networks of connected accounts, Instagram has become more than just a picture-sharing platform.

Recent changes to Instagram feeds and commenting has led to a slightly different user experience. Before, Instagram would display posts based on when they were posted. Now, more complicated algorithms are in place that allows certain accounts and posts to be boosted to the top of your feed, searches, and explore pages. Read on to learn more about the Instagram algorithm, and how this affects account popularity.

  • Why you keep seeing certain accounts on your feed
  • How large accounts make money off of Instagram
  • Exploring scandals and repost accounts

Who Are These People?

If you’ve been on Instagram lately, you may have seen some accounts pop up frequently on your feed. You may even follow some of these common names: kale salad, course, betches, diaryofafitmomofficial. These are only a few of the names that find their way to the top of your feed.

Kale salad, course, and betches are all accounts that rely, for the most part, on reposting viral content. These are only a few of the many accounts that have millions of followers and post viral content multiple times a day. Sometimes, the same content will show up on each account at different times.

This content often comes from other sources like Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube. People can begin to recognize when accounts are linked and recycle the same content if they follow multiple accounts.

Diaryofafitmomofficial is another account notorious for its online presence, but it’s not because of viral content. Instead, the account is run by Sia Cooper, a mother who blogs about staying fit while being a mother. Cooper makes a point of commenting on celebrity posts. Since she has over a million followers, the Instagram algorithm causes her comments to be featured and be visible without even opening the comments section.

Due to this, Cooper became infamous for her comments, with hundreds of people reacting to her generic comments on celebrity photos. Many people claimed they tried to block her to avoid her heart-eyed comments, but her comments would still pop up. This started a thread full of people begging Cooper to block them, criticizing her abilities as a parent, and doubting her morality.

Overall, the Instagram algorithm is based on engagement. The more clicks a post or account gets, the higher up on your feed it will be. For accounts with millions of followers, this means they can have an exponential increase in engagement since they will be featured more, leading to higher traffic through their pages.

According to Cooper, she gained over 70,000 new followers in two months after the Instagram algorithm update. In a post addressing all the negative attention surrounding her, she claimed she makes $500,000 off of Instagram each year, whether people like her or not.

How Much Money Do These Accounts Make?

While meme accounts started off posting already viral content, many of them have shifted into the meme-generating territory.

A prime example is FuckJerry, an account with 13.7 million Instagram followers. The account was founded by Elliot Tebele, who originally just wanted an account to post the funny images he found on the internet. After noticing that his own new content was driving up engagement, he started making his own memes.

After noticing his audience, companies began reaching out to Tebele in search of their own memes. According to Ben Kaplan, the director of business development for FuckJerry, each post on the account has about 6 to 7 million impressions. Every 1,000 impressions cost $5, meaning most companies can expect to pay FuckJerry at least $30,000 for a sponsored post.

Meme accounts aren’t the only ones making a profit off of Instagram. Celebrities and influencers charge similar if not higher rates. Kim Kardashian, whose Instagram has 114 million followers, charges at least $500,000 per sponsored post.

Other influencer accounts are emerging and have found different ways to make money off of Instagram. Betches, for example, has 6.2 million followers and an online shop that sells trendy merchandise. References to television shows, alcohol, and memes fuel the shop’s sales.

In 2017, Forbes estimated the account had over $5 million in revenue.

Overall, the most popular accounts on Instagram are either controlled by celebrities or accounts that generate memes and repost viral content. Through sheer engagement fueled by the Instagram algorithm, the value of a sponsored post on these accounts is skyrocketing.

Insta-Scandals and the Legality of Reposting

While accounts like FuckJerry make money primarily from sponsored posts, their original following came from reposting viral content.

Reposting viral content could become tricky, especially if accounts start gaining followers and money because of it. Originally, Instagram claimed that sharing other people’s content was against their terms of service. This was updated, however, to place the responsibility of all content on the poster. If an account reposts content, it is responsible for getting the permission to do so.

Technically, the original poster has the copyright for the content and could sue if reposters make money directly from their content. In order to gain permission to repost, accounts can comment on posts, direct message, or have previously established terms with influencers.

For viral and meme accounts, they often do not make money directly from reposting content. Rather, the reposted content drives up engagement and can affect the account’s overall traffic and the rates they set for sponsored content. Due to Instagram’s terms of service, accounts that repost content are responsible for gaining permission and will not intervene unless a post is reported.

From an audience’s perspective, the origin of content is usually not a concern. Instead of investigating the original creator of a meme or post, users tend to double tap and scroll on. This user ignorance—or perhaps apathy—is what fuels meme accounts.

Some people have noticed the blatant usurping of content and are trying to change the nature of memes on Instagram. KaleSalad’s Samir Mezrahi began cultivating a more “honest” following by finding the original source of viral content and reposting directly from it.

Often, meme accounts repost from each other and the original source is left behind. Mizrahi began a trend of reposting from the content source and giving credit in the post itself. This trend of crediting content started on Twitter but extended to his Instagram account. kale salad has 2.3 million followers and regularly posts ads, so Mizrahi still profits from his audience while giving content creators credit.

Legal issues have recently emerged as meme accounts began reposting photos and altering captions. In 2017, Buzzfeed investigated a new phenomenon of large accounts stealing photos from public profiles and changing the caption in order to gain likes. Many of these alterations included making pictures seem more sentimental.

This was not the only time sentiment would drive likes and shares. In December 2017, Course, run by Hasan, posted a picture of an account under the name GranHolly. The caption was “All I want for Christmas is for my grandma’s Instagram to go viral. She says none of her friends are alive to follow her.” The internet rallied behind this seemingly alone woman, and her account gained over 100,000 followers within a few hours.


People began noticing that the pictures of her dead husband were not consistent and could be linked back to other people’s personal accounts. The account’s name was eventually changed to CyberSavage, and posts that originally tagged GranHolly automatically link to this new page. Essentially, the account gained followers in the guise of a personal account and then switched to a generic meme account while keeping the newly gained followers.

Although the backlash for this was small, it still shows that the credibility of Instagram content is questionable. As accounts begin to increase profit from their followers, assessing the validity of content and linking original posts is important for consumers and marketers alike. Knowing where content comes from ensures that an account and its audience are organic sources of entertainment and engagement.

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