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Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook Bow to the Kardashians

Big changes at Instagram in response to TikTok's success, run into fierce resistance from two of the site's biggest influencers.
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Mark Zuckerberg and Meta Platforms  (META)  have apparently met their match.

They gave up a key fight quickly as two prominent influencers rallied against the plan. 

Faced with the rise of the short video platform TikTok, the CEO of Meta, parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, wanted to carry out a radical transformation to defend its advertising dollars, coveted by the Chinese group.

This revolution was going to  go through Instagram. The Menlo-Park, based California firm wanted to make Instagram a video platform, thus distancing it from its photo heritage. A test had started with a small percentage of users, but the reactions were mostly negative, especially on social media. A petition asking Meta to stop making Instagram TikTok was launched on Change.org. Nearly 230,000 people had already signed it at the time of writing.

Meta Defends Its Changes

Faced with this anger, the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, stepped up to defend Instagram's video shift.

"I need to be honest, I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time," Mosseri said in a video posted on Twitter on July 26.

"We see this even if we change nothing. We see this even if you just look at chronological feed. If you look at what people share on Instagram, that's shifting more and more to videos over time. If you look at what people like and consume and view on Instagram, that's also shifting more and more to video over time, even when we start changing anything. So we're going to have to lean into that shift while continuing to support photos."

He was then supported by his boss, Zuckerberg, during the second-quarter earnings' call.

"Right now, about 15% of content in a person's Facebook feed and a little more than that of their Instagram feed is recommended by our AI [Artificial intelligence] from people groups or accounts that you don't follow. And we expect these numbers to more than double by the end of next year," Zuckerberg told analysts, referring to the planned increase in recommendations that the new Instagram was working on.

Meta Abandons Its Changes

But that was without counting on the power of influencers, including sisters Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner who have 326 million followers and 361 million followers respectively at the time of writing.

The two sisters shared in their Instagram stories a post from photographer Tati Bruening asking Meta to "Make Instagram Instagram Again."

"Stop trying to be TikTok," the post also said.

The hashtag #MakeInstagramInstagram also became very popular on Twitter where users expressed their displeasure with the upcoming changes.

The outcry began to grow even louder as more influencers joined the movement. 

To everyone's surprise Meta just decided to back down. The planned changes will no longer take place, at least not for the moment.

"I’m glad we took a risk -- if we’re not failing every once in a while, we’re not thinking big enough or bold enough,” Mosseri told newsletter Platformer in an interview on July 28.  "But we definitely need to take a big step back and regroup. [When] we’ve learned a lot, then we come back with some sort of new idea or iteration. So we’re going to work through that."

The new Instagram that saw a screen full of photos and videos appear when you opened the app will disappear in the next two weeks. Instagram will also reduce the number of posts recommended to users.

"When you discover something in your field that you didn’t follow before, there should be a high bar — it should just be great,” Mosseri said. "You should be delighted to see it. And I don’t think that’s happening enough right now. So I think we need to take a step back, in terms of the percentage of feed that are recommendations, get better at ranking and recommendations, and then -- if and when we do -- we can start to grow again.”

Instagram is already copying TikTok with its Reels service, which allows users to post short videos on the platform. But TikTok's growing popularity among Gen Z, a favorite target of advertisers, comes just as Meta Platforms has just recorded its first decline in revenue as a public company.