Instagram Reels: A New Pandemic

Reels’ popularity raises concerns about addiction and accessible content for all generations

As Instagram Reels gain popularity, people from all age groups are rapidly becoming more addicted to their phones. This year alone, Instagram Reels have taken the world by storm. Closely following the TikTok pandemic, Reels has majorly risen in popularity due to its accessibility, lack of censorship, and addictive tactics. 

With the release of Insta Reels in 2020, the app’s already booming popularity became greater as Instagram now provides 2.4 billion users with hours of personalized content. From its already unique-to-you Explore Page, Instagram Reels is argued to be more personalized to its users than TikTok by having a specified feed based on what people are already consuming across pre-existing features on the app. While Instagram has steadily upheld its place as fourth out of all social media platforms globally, the already booming app launched Reels’ accessibility as a new feature, providing an already substantial audience and bringing even more users to the app. 

Appallingly, Reels is replacing TikTok in more ways than one. After the government of India’s ban on TikTok in June 2020, India’s average time spent on Instagram increased by 3.5% and their Instagram downloads increased by 11.4%. It is undeniable that Reels is gaining a previously Tik-Tok audience as high school seniors are starting to delete TikTok to finish their college applications, only to find themselves consumed by Reels, a comparatively less-addictive form of content. Or so we thought. As proven, Reels had only become more fashionable to all demographics. 

Additionally, this addiction is fueled by Reels’ efficiency; Instagram users can employ the same photo-posting feature they are familiar with to upload reels, despite it being a separate category of post. Equipped with new cropping, editing, and music capabilities, users can create their videos all in one place, whereas on TikTok many users rely on CapCut to edit their videos before posting. 

Naturally, as our attention spans shorten, most people are starting to favor short and quick videos as opposed to longer, YouTube style content. Vertical videos are also becoming the new norm, encouraging never ending scrolling as users do not have to turn their phones to watch something, merely lifting their thumb to view the next video. The impact of vertical videos is notably altering the way people consume content; in 2012, attention spans were 75 seconds, and as of 2021 they have lessened to around 47 seconds on average. 

Unlike TikTok, Reels incorporates “endless scrolling”, where once a video ends, whether 15 seconds or 60 seconds, the next one automatically begins. This trend started in the early 2010s, with the popularity of the “Vine” app. Vine featured six second videos which were often bits and comedy videos that started the trend of short-form content. This gimmick only aids users in becoming more addicted to a constant stream of content and scarily eliminates the only human aspect of social media. With endless scrolling, technology overtakes any conscious control of content-watching, and screen time is all up from here. 

Finally, the impact of Instagram Reels on all age groups raises many concerns. Due to a misconception that TikTok is more dangerous for children and the prevalence of the government banning the app in every country, it is more likely to find young teens and children on Instagram Reels than TikTok. This is especially alarming because anyone who uses Reels frequently knows that from a leisurely 5 minutes of scrolling, a video containing death in some form is almost a guarantee. For example, there is a recent video circulating of a man committing suicide at New York’s 911 memorial, which gathered millions of views. 

Confusingly, Instagram has a reputation for censoring common inappropriate language while having a substantial amount of vulgar videos like these on each user’s feed. The lack of censorship on Reels is often seen as a driving force of its popularity, with the most viral of videos being someone jumping off a cliff onto the road or a deathly car crash. Due to the prevalence of vulgar videos this feature encourages, people are concerned for younger generations who could be growing up desensitized and overly exposed to death. 

Overall, the recent popularity of Instagram Reels has raised red flags concerning technology’s impact on human control, censorship in the media and desensitization, and content addiction. It is encouraged to restrict children’s access to Instagram and implement the screen time and reminder features through the app to diminish phone addiction and overexposure. While one may think they are doing themselves a favor by deleting TikTok, Instagram Reels may be the social media platform to watch out for. 


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