Instagram celebrates its tenth birthday this year.
In the decade since it launched, Instagram has shaped the way we consume, advertise, and create content. From the rise of sponcon to disastrous gender reveals, and to the art of FaceTune, Instagram’s cultural impact — whether beneficial or detrimental — is undeniable.
During that decade, trends have come and gone, images have been posted and deleted, and influencers have been canceled, uncanceled, and canceled again. Here are some of moments in Instagram history that shaped digital culture today.
1. Follow me
Remember when everyone and their mother posted “follow me” photos during vacations? The trend was popularized by travel photographer Murad Osmann, who went viral for posting photos of his girlfriend leading the viewer around the world’s most breathtaking sights. For the better part of the decade, Osmann and his girlfriend have led Instagram followers to the icy fjords of Scandinavia, the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia, and even the bustling streets of Hollywood. Osmann and his girlfriend also launched a travel vlog series on YouTube, which records their adventures in more detail.
2. Viral activism
Remember #KONY2012? It’s one of the most well-known example of clickbait activism that was well intentioned, but ultimately ineffective. Though it didn’t launch on Instagram, the campaign’s influence and urgency was felt across all social platforms. Instagram feeds in 2012 were flooded with call out posts imploring people to pay attention to the “Invisible Children” kidnapped by guerilla warlord Joseph Kony. But the video oversimplified a massive geopolitical issue into a 30 minute YouTube documentary, and at the end of the day, raising awareness and selling $30 kits for a one-day campaign did little to help children. #KONY2020, however, was a valuable lesson that showed true activism and change takes more work than sharing a video.
3. Meme accounts and content stealing
Today, FuckJerry is infamous for stealing jokes, shilling tequila, and producing an ethically questionable documentary about Fyre Festival. But in 2014, FuckJerry was a popular Instagram account and Facebook page that “curated” screenshots of content and reposted it without credit. Last year, the Instagram account and Jerry Media, the associated production company involved with the Fyre Festival documentary, were the target of the campaign #FuckFuckJerry, a comedian-led social media push to unfollow FuckJerry on all its platforms in protest of its content stealing.
4. Pete Souza’s White House photography
A good chunk of the internet was devastated by Donald Trump’s 2016 election win, and took solace in remembering a president who acted like a leader. Pete Souza, the former chief photographer for Barack Obama, went viral shortly after Trump’s inauguration for posting previously unseen photos of Obama’s presidency every time Trump made another gaffe. He’s still posting them today, and has since released two photo books about Obama’s administration.
5. Beyoncé’s surprise pregnancy announcement
Beyoncé rarely puts out content that isn’t a work of art itself, and her viral pregnancy announcement in February 2017 was no exception. The artist announced that she was pregnant with twins with a breathtaking portrait of herself under a sheer green veil framed by flowers, writing that she and her husband Jay-Z were “blessed two times over.” Within 24 hours, the post was then the most liked photo on Instagram.
6. The red swimsuit
This image of a model wearing a red swimsuit plagued Instagram feeds in 2017. The company that sold it, Sunny Co Clothing, ran a promotion that promised it would send a free swimsuit to any Instagram user who posted it and tagged the company. Instagram users only had to pay shipping and handling fees. At the time of the promotion, the swimsuit retailed for $64.99. But the overwhelming response to the promotion forced the company to cap the number of free swimsuits. Instagram reposters claimed they either didn’t receive the suit or they were charged the full price in addition to the $12.98 shipping and handling fee. It was a mess, but it was memorable.
7. The rise of celebrity call out accounts
Celebrities have massive platforms and a significant breadth of influence — which is why it’s so important to keep them accountable. While some hem and haw about “cancel culture,” the reality is that celebrities, like all of us, make mistakes. This decade has seen both the rise of influencers, but also the rise of guerilla accounts trying to keep those influencers accountable. The account celebface, for example, aspires to paint a more realistic picture of famous people by pointing out their FaceTuned photos in an effort to push back against unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards. The account commentsbycelebs screenshots and posts celebrity Instagram comments before they’re inevitably deleted. The account diet_prada calls out the fashion industry for plagiarizing and copying independent designers. The account also highlights the industry’s predatory practices, and has called out photographers and designers who used their positions of power to take advantage of vulnerable models.
8. The Instagram egg
Remember the egg that broke records for literally just being an egg? It feels like ancient history but it was only last year that a photo of an egg (just a plain egg) surpassed a photo of Kylie Jenner’s daughter Stormi as the most liked photo on Instagram. It still holds that record nearly a year later. The account eventually turned into a campaign to raise awareness for mental health, revealing its purpose in an underwhelming Super Bowl ad.
9. Activism, but make it artsy
We’ve come a long way since #KONY2012, but there’s still plenty of work to do. These illustrated guides to activism gained popularity after Instagram introduced its Stories feature. These educational, digestible guides were especially popular at the height of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Their efficacy is questionable — especially if users are reposting them without taking other actions for said activism. That being said, many of these guides call on the viewer to continue educating themselves, and often include resources to get involved in their local activism as well.
10. Niche astrology meme accounts
Instagram started out as a platform for sharing aesthetically pleasing photos, but like most social media sites, descended into a haven for memes. In the last five years, astrology meme accounts have risen in popularity, dominating Instagram Stories and group chats alike. Accounts like notallgeminis, thezodiacstea, and crybabyastrology post personalized memes calling out each Zodiac sign in rude, but relatable niche memes. Like Bustle writes, meme accounts make astrology more accessible and encourages self reflection. It’s also made it more socially acceptable to ask people for their birth chart on the first date.
Who knows what trends the internet will embrace in the next ten years? At least we’ll have FaceTune to get through it.