(Update at 5:17pm ET: A Meta spokesperson sent this statement in response to Instagram user complaints: “Based on our findings and community feedback, we’re pausing the full-screen test on Instagram so we can explore other options, and we’re temporarily decreasing the number of recommendations you see in your feed so we can improve the quality of your experience. We recognize that changes to the app can be an adjustment, and while we believe that Instagram needs to evolve as the world changes, we want to take the time to make sure we get this right.”
Regarding recent improvements to the algorithm designed to combat misinformation spread, the spokesperson noted that Zuckerberg says on the call, “in general, we’ve made a lot of progress” on content moderation “over the last few years, and I’m quite proud of that.” He says most content moderation is conducted through AI, and the company’s Community Standards Enforcement Report will continue monitoring the AI’s performance by tracking “what percent of the harmful content” that systems are “identifying and taking an action on before someone has to report it to us.”)
Hundreds of thousands of people recently signed a Change.org petition asking Instagram to stop eating up space in their feeds by recommending so many Reels from accounts they do not follow. Shortly after, Instagram-owner Meta confirmed that these users aren’t just imagining that there’s a sudden avalanche of Reels ruining their online social lives. The short videos currently make up about 15 percent of Instagram and Facebook user feeds—and soon, even more often, they’ll be shoving to the side all the updates from friends that users choose to follow.
Despite all the negative feedback, Meta revealed on an earnings call that it plans to more than double the number of AI-recommended Reels that users see. The company estimates that in 2023, about a third of Instagram and Facebook feeds will be recommended content.
“One of the main transformations in our business right now is that social feeds are going from being driven primarily by the people and accounts you follow to increasingly also being driven by AI recommending content that you’ll find interesting from across Facebook or Instagram, even if you don’t follow those creators,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg says.
The company’s plan is to increase user engagement with Reels, then expand ad revenue through Reels ads. On the call, which was her last as chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg says that Reels is part of Meta’s efforts to innovate “relentlessly” to deliver “tools and products that help advertisers drive business results.”
For advertisers, Reels certainly seems like a new opportunity to reach users.
Sandberg discussed an example where a sustainable seafood delivery business, Wild Alaskan Company, tested Reels during an ad campaign that helped the company lower its subscriber cost and increase returns on its ad spending. Not every advertiser is finding Reels easy to use, but overall, Meta says that Reels is growing faster than Stories did, with projections indicating that Reels is on trend to generate $1 billion in annual revenue—more than Stories did in its first year.
“Strong Reels growth is continuing to drive engagement across Facebook and Instagram,” Zuckerberg says, pointing to Reels and the discovery engine recommending content as key parts of Meta’s strategy to generate enough ad revenue to get through current financial setbacks. He also said that user engagement was steadily increasing. He took that to indicate that Reels has improved the quality of user feeds by relying on sophisticated AI that has been better trained to recommend more content that users clearly find interesting, sharing often with friends and sparking new social engagements.
But lots of users refuse to see Reels as innovative or interesting. Petitioners complain that on Instagram, they just want to see cute photos of friends and family, not more content from unfamiliar accounts.
“STOP TRYING TO BE TIKTOK!” posted Tati Bruening, creator of the Change.org petition (which is still up, despite Meta sharing its plans to continue copying TikTok). The petition currently has a goal of 500,000 signatures. “We have TikTok for a reason, and let’s face it, the only reels uploaded are recycled TikToks and content that the world has already seen. What’s innovative and unique about old stale content? Nothing!”