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Official App Icon [ ]
Type Photo Sharing Service
Launch Date October 6, 2010 [1]
Status Active
Product Line Instagram
Platform Cloud Service

Instagram is a free social networking and photo sharing service that allows users to share aspects of their life through photos and short videos. Profiles can be public and private. Users can edit photographs with filters and share them with "followers" over the app and contacts in other social networks. Instagram originally required photos to have a 1:1 aspect ratio reminiscent of Kodak and Polaroid images, but new upgrades allow users to post photos with different dimensions. Initially only supported by Apple devices and the iTunes App Store, Instagram added support for the Android Camera phones running 2.2 or higher through Google Play in 2012.[2] After reaching 30 million iOS users, Instagram won Apple's "iPhone App of the Year" award in 2011.[3] As of April 2017, the app has over 400 million registered users.[4] In April 2012, Facebook made an offer to purchase Instagram for approximately $1 billion in cash and stock, completing the transaction on September 5th, 2012.[5] Instagram has fallen under criticism for issues regarding privacy, nudity, and the impact of the application felt by professional photographers.



The development of Instagram began in early 2010 in San Francisco when Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder, left a job in marketing at NextStop to pursue his side project Burbn. He had been working on programming a prototype in basic HTML5 in his free time, aiming to combine elements of FourSquare and Mafia Wars. Mike Krieger, a former classmate of Systrom, joined Systrom's project in early 2010. Together, the pair raised $500k from investors Andreessen Horowitz and Baseline Ventures by March 5, 2010. [6] After full completion, the creators felt that the iPhone app Burbn was too cluttered with features. The app included checking into locations, posting pictures, making plans, and earning points for hanging out with friends. Krieger and Systrom later decided to focus on the photo-sharing aspect. Within eight weeks of switching tracks, Instagram was complete and ready to be launched at the end of March 2010. [7]

In January 2011, hashtags were implemented by Instagram. When version 2.0 came out later that year in the App Store, it included photo filters, instant tilt-shift, high-resolution photos, optional borders, one click rotation, and an updated icon. Finally, on April 3, 2012, Instagram released the app for Android mobile devices after being exclusively available for iPhone users for 18 months. It was downloaded more than one million times in less than a day. Currently, there are no future plans to release the app for BlackBerry devices.

The Android interface is slightly different, following a familiar Android user-interface design as opposed to the iOS featured design. The two platforms also have features that are available exclusively to each platform. [8] The Android app allows users to use the phone’s native camera by changing the camera settings on the profile settings page to not “Use Instagram’s Advanced Camera,” a feature unavailable on the iOS platform. Until May, 2012, the Android app did not have the popular Tilt-Shift feature that allows users to create a blurring effect and add depth to the picture. [9] Unlike on the iOS platform, the Android app does not allow users to apply different filters or effects before the photo is taken using the camera within Instagram.

Mobile View

Facebook Acquisition

In 2012, Facebook made an offer equating to $1 billion in cash and stock to purchase Instagram and all 13 of its employees in April 2012, a month before Facebook went public. The acquisition plans intended to keep the company independently managed, as many were concerned their photo sharing capabilities on Instagram would be thwarted by Facebook. The Office of Fair Trading approved the deal on August 14, 2012, and on August 22, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission in the United States closed its investigation.[10] On September 6, 2012, the deal between Instagram and Facebook officially closed. Instagram is now currently operating under the ownership of Facebook.[11]

Instagram and Twitter

When Instagram first launched, users were able to share their photos directly to Twitter as Twitter cards. On December 4, 2012, Instagram disabled the ability for Twitter to properly display Instagram photos on its website and coinciding applications. The move escalated tensions between the two companies, which were once friends in the battle against Facebook but have now become direct competitors. [12] Although Instagram and Twitter worked closely together during Instagram’s early days, relations between the two companies have soured since the Facebook acquisition. [12]

Since shutting off users' abilities to use Instagram, Twitter has released its own photo filter features, allowing users to create effects quite similar to those available on Instagram.[13] Instagram users can still share their photos to Twitter, but instead of tweeting the photo as a Twitter card, they can only tweet the link to the photo, which will take Twitter users to the Instagram app or website.


After the application is downloaded, an icon appears on the home screen of the user's device through which they can access the application. Once they access the app, the user must register and create a free account with a username and password. They can optionally add an email address or phone number to the account. The user can also add a photograph, which will appear on the user's profile along with their posted photos and username. Once an account has been registered, a user has the option to find friends through Facebook or by simply searching. Unlike Facebook, however, users do not have to follow friends who are following them and vice versa. Instagram also provides a list of recommended users to follow. Once a user follows other users, photos posted to the application will appear in a stream on the home page. A user can like or comment on those photos, which will send a notification to the user who posted the photos as well as appear with that photo on all other users' homepages. Along the bottom of the screen are five navigation icons. The first is the home page. The second is a magnifying glass that represents the "Explore" page. In addition to being able to search for other users or hashtags, the user can also find a list of suggested images that the app curates based on who the user follows and what photos they have liked. The middle button is a camera icon where users can select photos to edit from their phone's camera reels or take photos from the app's camera. The third is the notification page, which consists of two tabs: the first is a newsfeed of new followers, comments, and likes, and the second is a "following" section that serves as a short news feed of other users' activities. The last icon in the bottom right corner leads to the registered user's profile.

From the settings page, the user has the option to make their profile private. This means that all of that user's photos are private unless other users request to follow that user. Upon acceptance of that request, other users can see those private photos. Users can also turn on photo sharing to other social networks through their settings.

To post a picture, users click the bottom center camera icon where they can proceed to take a picture or use a previously taken photo. Once a user chooses a photo, filters can be added as well as a number of photo editing effects. Users can then add a caption or geotag and post it for all of that user's followers to see.


As of 2016, Instagram reported having over 400 million accounts that are active monthly. The Pew Research Center found that 28% of all Americans on the internet have an Instagram account. 31% of all internet-using American women use Instagram versus 24% of Internet-using American men. In the United States, Instagram is most popular with people in the 18-29 age bracket, with over 50% of this demographic with Instagram accounts. [14] Instagram's user base extends beyond just the United States, as almost 80% of users are from outside the US. [15] On average, Instagram users collectively share over 80 million photos, and like 3.5 billion posts per day.

Sample of a page

Professional Instagrammers

Some people have been able to use their huge following on Instagram as a way to gain endorsements, and even use their photos as a sort of social currency. For instance, Cole Rise, a professional wilderness photographer with over 900,000 Instagram followers, paid for his stay at a Nicaraguan hotel by posting a photo endorsement of the location on his Instagram account [16]. Rise has also done professional posts on his page for the Norwegian Tourism Board, NASA, and jewelry companies [16]. Though Cory Staudacher was not originally a professional photographer, he still entered into the realm of professional Instagram posting. With over 563,000 followers, Staudacher has done endorsed posts for big-name companies including Apple, Ford, Gap, Nordstrom, Acura, Dos Equis, Warby Parker, and Marriott Hotels [16]. He refers to these types of posts as "social influencer campaigns", in which companies provide the poster with royalties in return for their endorsement post on Instagram. For example, Acura provided Staudacher with a vehicle to drive at the Sundance Film Festival with the promise that he would photograph the car amid the scenery of Park City, Utah [16]. These kinds of campaigns on social media reach consumers in a way that billboards of TV spots cannot. Both of these individuals belong to a collective of similar visual artists with large followings on social media known as Tinker Street [16]. This is just one example of a number of these kinds of agencies that promote this new genre of social media endorsement and advertising.



Instagram displays a feed on the home page for users to view all of the photos that have been posted by their followers in chronological order. In 2016, Instagram began testing an algorithmic timeline that would organize posts on the home display based on popularity personalized to the user[17], similar to the way that Facebook and Twitter organize one's newsfeed and Twitter feed.


The hashtag was adopted from Twitter as a means for categorizing photos. Users can implement hashtags to tag photos and help other users discover photos. Instagram encourages users to use specific and relevant tags to help users find photos more easily. The hashtags feature has created a new Instagram phenomenon. Some users have adopted a habit to come up with as many hashtags as possible that are relevant to a picture. This is an attempt to have their pictures seen by as many Instagram users as possible through certain hashtags. Hashtags are generally collated by the app as part of the Discover feature, which offers image suggestions based on a user's individual preferences and patterns.


Users can like photos by clicking the heart-shaped button or by double tapping the photograph itself. With enough likes, a photo can make it to the Popular Page, which is broadcasted to every Instagram user and is constantly in flux. Depending on the number of likes, either each individual's username is displayed or the number of likes is displayed, as to not exceed four lines of text on the screen.


Users can comment on photos to share their thoughts on a post. The most frequent comments are displayed on a user's Timeline. Tapping on "View all comments" on a photo in the Timeline expands the comments section on a new screen.


Instagram users can tag their friends, family, businesses, and places in their Instagram posts. When uploading a post, users search for a name or Instagram handle to tag an account.


Users can now turn on post notifications for accounts that they follow. This means they will receive a notification every time this account posts anything to Instagram. It's a way for users to stay informed and never miss a post from certain desired accounts. Celebrities and popular accounts often post pictures asking their followers to turn the notifications on to ensure their loyal following.


Photos can be tagged at a certain location where other users can view all photos tagged at that same location. This enables followers and friends to explore different places while browsing through Instagram. Geotagging is frequently used for pictures related to restaurants and tourist destinations to Facebook's "Check-in" feature. Geotagging allows the user to check-in anywhere. The user does not have to physically be in the location they are tagging. Additionally, geotagging allows the user to select a suggested location or make up a location of their own.


Users have the ability to share photos posted on their Instagram to their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Flickr profiles. Instagram's privacy settings do not apply when users choose to share their picture to an external social media account. Instead, it will depend on the privacy settings set on their other profile.


Users can now bookmark Instagram posts to save and look at later. The feature, which debuted in December of 2016, allows users to maintain a collection of photos and videos by simply tapping a bookmark icon located next to all posts. Bookmarked posts are saved in a gallery that only the user has access to and users are never notified when one of their posts have been bookmarked[18].

Multiple Photos

Users can now upload up to ten photos at one time, all under one post. The change, according to Instagram, was made so users would "no longer have to choose the single best photo or video from an experience you want to remember.” The feature was introduced in February of 2017[19].

Instagram Direct

Instagram Direct is an instant messaging system within the Instagram app that allows users to share pictures or videos with a selected person or group of people. It features threaded messaging in which users can name their chats and also share other posts from Instagram in their messages. In addition to sharing images directly through this chat, members of a chat group can send text messages and heart icons that indicate liking.


The same photo under different filters [20].

Users have the ability to add different filters to their photos, which consist of different lighting, saturation, contrast, frames and color effects:[20]

  • Aden- This filter gives a blue/green natural look.
  • Amaro- Light with minimal fading and emphasis on beige
  • Ashby- By adding a gold overlay, it creates a vintage feel to images without emphasizing shadows [20]
  • Brannan- Low-key with an emphasis on grays and greens
  • Brooklyn- Purple undertones
  • Clarendon- Creates a stronger contrast between shadows and light for images [20]
  • Charmes- Saturates red tones and tints warm colors [20]
  • Crema- Adds a creamy look that both warms and cools the image.
  • Dogpatch- Increases contrast and tints warm colors [20]
  • Earlybird- Sepia- like, faded with blurred colors and an emphasis on yellow and beige
  • Gingham- Adds yellow tone to create a brighter, faded look[20]
  • Ginza- Overlays image with warm colors from the color wheel [20]
  • Hefe- Fuzzy with an emphasis on golden tones
  • Helena- Saturates orange and teal colors in images [20]
  • Hudson- Warm and saturated with an emphasis on blues and yellows
  • Inkwell- Black and white feature
  • Juno- Saturates warm colors on color wheel and shades darker colors [20]
  • Kelvin- Saturated, retro photos with a distinctive scratchy border
  • Lark- Saturates all colors except for red hues [20]
  • Lo-Fi- Dreamy with a slight blur and saturated yellows and greens
  • Ludwig- A slight hint of desaturation that also enhances light.
  • Maven- Shades the image,lowers contrast of hues, and also has a yellow overlay [20]
  • Mayfair- Applies a warm pink tone, subtle vignetting to brighten the photograph center and a thin black border
  • Moon- Black and white feature
  • Nashville- Sharpens the image with a magenta-purple tint and framed with a film strip border
  • Normal- No effect
  • Perpetua- Adding a pastel look, this filter is ideal for portraits.
  • Reyes- Uses tint effects to create a more vintage look to images [20]
  • Rise- Warm with an emphasis on yellow and light browns
  • Sierra- Light with a slight blur and emphasis on beige
  • Skyline- Adds tint to images acting as an auto-correct feature [20]
  • Slumber- Desaturates the image as well as adds haze for a retro, dreamy look – with an emphasis on blacks and blues.
  • Stinson- A subtle filter that brightens your image, washing out the colors ever so slightly.
  • Sutro- Sepia effect with an emphasis on purple and brown
  • Toaster- High exposure with vignette corners and an emphasis on red
  • Valencia- High contrast with a slightly brown and gray overtone
  • Vesper- Decreases sharpness of photos and adds a warmer tint to the colors [20]
  • X-Pro II- Warm and saturated with an emphasis on aquas and greens
  • Walden- Washed out color with slight blue overtone
  • Willow- Washed out black and white feature
  • 1977- 70's style flair

Frames can be added or taken away but are different depending on the filter used. One filter's frame cannot be used with another filter's look.


The Lux feature allows users to adjust saturation and contrast in photos simultaneously. Users can adjust the Lux slider to control the amount of saturation and contrast.


In addition to filters, users can adjust a number of aspects of their photos. These include:

  • Adjust- Users can tilt or skew the photo
  • Brightness- Users can make the photo lighter or darker
  • Contrast- Users can increase or decrease the contrast in their photos
  • Structure- Users can enhance lines, details, and textures in their photos
  • Warmth- Users can make their photos warmer or cooler
  • Saturation- Users can increase or decrease saturation
  • Color- Users have the ability to add different shades of yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, and green to either the shadows or highlights of their photos
  • Fade- Users can add a faded effect to their photos
  • Highlights- Users can increase or decrease the brightness of the highlighted portions of their photos
  • Shadows- Users can increase or decrease the darkness of the shadowy portions of their photos
  • Vignette- Users can add a vignette effect to the border of their photos
  • Tilt shift- Users can add an adjustable radial or linear blur to their photos
  • Sharpen- Users can sharpen their photos


Instagram users can upload videos that are between 3 and 15 seconds long. When the user selects which video they would like to upload, they have the option of applying a filter to the video just as they would with a still photo. There are more restrictions on editing videos than photos. In March 2016, Instagram allowed users to post videos up to 60 seconds in length, putting more emphasis on videos than in previous years [21].


On October 22, 2015, Instagram announced "Boomerang" [22] . A boomerang is a mix between a photo and a GIF. Boomerang takes a burst of photos and puts them in a video loop to add motion to what would otherwise be a static photo.



On August 2, 2016, Instagram launched their "Stories" feature. Similar to Snapchat Stories, this feature allows users to upload multiple pictures or videos throughout their day, which their followers are able to view for up to 24 hours. Users can also add various effects to the images or videos on their story including filters, text, drawings, geotags, rewind, etc. Stories appear in a bar at the top of the app, where an orange circle around someone's profile picture indicates an unwatched story. Users can view which of their followers have seen the post on their story by swiping up when looking at their own story. [23]

Instagram Business Tools

On May 31, 2016, Instagram announced the launch of its tools for business owners. Some of these new features include business profiles, insights, promote, and product tagging.

Business Profile

Business profiles are a free feature for Instagram accounts that want to be recognized as a business. To enable this feature, accounts must be on public mode and must have a Facebook page for their business that can be linked to their Instagram account. This filters out users on Instagram that use the platform for self-promotion (gaining followers, likes, etc.) and not for a commercial purpose. Business profiles have several exclusive features, such as the contact button. Businesses have the ability to link their email, phone number, and provide directions to their business through Google Maps, allowing their customers to reach them easier. [24]


The Insights feature provides businesses actionable information so that businesses can improve their reach. Insights focus on two main areas: post analytics and follower demographics. Utilizing the insights feature, users can compare their content easily and find information of how each of their posts is performing.[25] In terms of positive marketing, businesses can observe target audiences, certain times of the day that are successful, and even trying out new content. Engagement insight is a significant feature for many users of Instagram.

Post Analytics

Post analytics allows businesses to learn about the performance of their Instagram content. The business can track data regarding impressions, reach, website clicks, and follower activity. Impressions refer to the number of times the post has been seen, whereas reach refers to the number of distinct Instagram accounts that have seen the post. Website clicks allow the business to track the number of users who have clicked on the website linked to their profile (if they have one). Follower activity provides the most popular times throughout the day where the accounts' followers are active so that businesses can better time their post and expand their reach.[26]

Follower Demographics

Follower demographics allows businesses to better understand their audience. Demographic details such as a follower's age, location (by country and city), and gender allow businesses of large and small scale to better time their post and cater their content to their consumers. In addition, the follower analytics section allows businesses to track the number of recent followers hourly and daily, allowing them to pinpoint which posts converted users into followers. [27]


The promote feature allows businesses to turn well-performing posts into advertisements within the Instagram application itself. Businesses can pick a post already featured on their Instagram page and add a button telling users to "take action". Instagram allows the business to select their target audience or let Instagram suggest an audience itself. After deciding on how long the ad will run and the budget spent on it, the post then becomes promoted as an advertisement. [28]

Product Tagging

One of Instagram's most recent business feature, product tagging, allows business profiles the ability to integrate an in-app shopping experience. This feature is currently only available to approved businesses in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Brazil. Businesses can tag up to five products per image or twenty products per carousel, allowing consumers to shop directly within the app. Users have access to pricing and product details on the post itself and through the shop button on the business profile. From there, the user can click on the link provided on the post, forwarding them to the business's website where they can purchase the product.[29]

Other Platforms Web Profiles: Aside from, Instagram announced the release of Instagram profiles on the web in November of 2012. These web profiles feature a user's profile photo, bio, and a selection of their recently shared photographs. Through these profiles, you can like and comment on photos, edit your profile directly from the web, and follow other users. Each user's profile can be found by typing in their username in the search bar provided at the top of the page. If a user is private, you cannot see their web profile unless they accept you as a follower and you are logged on to Instagram. If a user's photos are set to public, any viewer who types their username into the browser will be able to see their profile. All photos a user has ever shared on Instagram can be accessed through their web profile. Currently, users cannot upload photos directly from the web, as Instagram focuses their application on uploading photos from mobile devices. The main goal of their web profiles is to make it easier for users to browse the shared content of their own content and the content of those they follow. [30]

Ethical Concerns


Instagram's privacy settings allow users to have a private or a public account. With a private account, a user must accept a friend request in order for their content to be seen by others. A public account allows anyone to follow their account and access their content. Users have permission to view posts and stories, in addition to performing activities like commenting and liking. If a user with a private account shares their photo to another social media site, such as Facebook or Twitter, the content will be visible to anyone on that social media network or anyone who has the permalink that accompanies the shared image. [31]

App icon for Insta Download

Many users, especially celebrities, have been susceptible to their Instagram accounts being hacked. This includes adding personal content from their phones as well as troll content; therefore spreading false information.


Instagram's mapping feature has led to new privacy concerns. Geotagging picture locations share the user's location associated with his or her picture on the Instagram map. Privacy concerns take place when users do not want their home address or current location publicized on their Instagram profile, which can cause concerns such as stalking. Instagram uses Foursquare for its geotagging feature, which in return taps into Google Maps. [32] An example of this ethical concern can be demonstrated by I Know Where Your Cat Lives, which is a website that uses data from Instagram location tagging to display those Instagrams' and where the cat is located. The goal of the website was to encourage users to make their profiles private in order to prevent this potential stalking threat.

Kim Kardashian West fell victim to this when she was in Paris on October 3rd, 2016. She was there for the biannual fashion week when a group of men broke into her room and held her at gunpoint. The men gagged her and tied her to the bed while they stole ten million dollars worth of jewelry from the celebrity. [32] Kim had taken multiple photos in the hotel room, some of which showing off the jewelry she had with her. While she did not geotag these pictures, they were easily recognizable by the hotel's iconic windows, giving the robbers information on her location. [33]

Security Research

In December 2015, a security researcher named Wesley Wineberg independently breached Instagram's servers. In November 2015, he reported to Facebook, owner of Instagram, about how he accessed internal data from Instagram servers such as passwords, private keys for encryption, as well as certificates. Earning him and another researcher $2,500 from Facebook as part of their bug bounty program. From these current findings, he probed further and found login credentials to access the digital storage units that Instagram used to store data. Once Wineberg released his new findings in December 2015, Facebook's security chief, Alex Stamos, threatened to file a lawsuit against Wineberg claiming that he violated Facebook's bug bounty program because he was potentially able to access personal user data. Wineberg claims that he followed the bug bounty program and was concerned that if he were able to successfully breach Instagram's systems, then an adversarial hacker could breach Instagram as well. While there was rhetoric from both sides, Wineberg exhibited his findings to Facebook and Facebook never filed a lawsuit against Wineberg. Since Wineberg's disclosure, Facebook announced that these bugs were fixed [16] This raises the question about how far is too far in security research. Although the outcome was positive for Instagram users, the company was publicly embarrassed and credibility of Instagram was questioned by users. This raises questions whether it was appropriate for Facebook to restrict security research to protect user information.

Copyright and Third Party Apps

When a user posts a picture or video to Instagram, that piece of media is their personal property under copyright laws. The owner of the photo or video retains exclusive rights regarding its use, display, and distribution. Instagram's terms of use state that Instagram doesn't claim ownership of the content posted on its platform, which grants Instagram a non-exclusive, no-cost license to use the user's content that is subject to the private policy. This clause states that Instagram may sub-license its user's content to outside companies for a fee without providing any compensation to the user. [34] Despite this loophole, Instagram does not allow users to download any content directly from the app or website due to copyright concerns. However, there are third-party apps and software that can be downloaded that circumvent this. Apps like Photo Saver and Insta Download allow users to bypass Instagram's copyright protocols and download and save any content from any user at will. This content then has the potential to be re-posted or circulated without the original poster's consent, further muddying how Instagram deals with copyright issues.

Professional Photography

According to Kate Bevan, a freelance writer for the UK's "The Guardian," many professional photographers believe the art of photography lies in the editing, not just capturing the picture. Some professional photographers feel that applications like Instagram are debasing genuine photography because simply adding a filter on a photograph degrades the integrity of the original picture.[35] Others believe that Instagram standardizes the look of the photos because it offers nothing but basic filters and leaves minimal room for alterations. Rather than encouraging creativity, opponents feel it thwarts artistic ability.[36] Thus, there is a wide debate on whether or not popular applications such as Instagram that offer filtering and editing options cheat the photography game and more importantly professional photographers who make their living based on the artistic quality of their photography.

Some professional photographers have suggested creating a professional version of Instagram for connoisseurs who wish to have more editing features. On the other hand, many people also believe the application has benefits. Due to the simplicity of the application, Instagram has managed to attract more people to photography by making it more accessible. Many photographers see Instagram as a practical on-the-go tool. Since professional cameras can sometimes be inconvenient to carry around, not to mention expensive, Instagram allows its user to capture pictures in spontaneous moments with their own handheld devices. This puts the power of photography, art, and creativity in the hands of people who normally would not have access to such an opportunity.[37]



As photos are the primary medium for Instagram, users want to have the most aesthetically pleasing pictures to get the most traction on their account. This often requires heavy editing, such as modifying the brightness of the original photo, adding filters, and changing the opacity of the photo. Small-scale edits are common in photography; however, the need for larger-scale editing is now so common that editing apps have been developed. For example, Facetune allows users to modify their appearance, such as making their nose appear smaller, eyes bigger, and face thinner.[38]. Users can also modify larger body parts, such as enlarging breast size and creating abs. This raises the question of authenticity and whether material being shared on photo sharing apps represent reality. Selfie-editing apps such as these often find such success on the market because many feel pressured to represent themselves in the best light possible, especially when it is uncertain how long their uploaded material will remain on the app or how long the impression it gives will last. [39].


As of late 2016, 32% of online adults reported using Instagram. Within that 32%, 38% were female while 26% were male. [40]. With women, a lot of accounts are targeted towards bloggers, who show off their clothes and fashion accessories. Oftentimes, these bloggers are promoted by brands that pay them to wear certain clothing items and fashion accessories. Users do not realize the authenticity of the bloggers' lives and often splurge on the items the bloggers are wearing. However, it may be that the bloggers are being professionally dressed by others for the posted photo, and dress normally when without brand promotion.

There have been many cases where brand influencers have not disclosed that their Instagram posts are paid placement. It goes against Federal Trade Commission's rules if brand influencers do not include #ad or #sponsored in their social media posts that they are getting paid for. [41] Lord & Taylor received backlash when they sold out of a dress that 50 fashion influencers were wearing on Instagram. Lord & Taylor and the influencers never disclosed that it was a paid ad campaign. [41] The CEO of Izea, Ted Murphy, has said that while Instagram campaigns show the medium's power, the lack of disclosure by marketers may make it more of a norm. [41] "What are you legally required to do, and what's the right thing to do?" was stated by Murphy in terms of the two issues often involved in nondisclosure controversies. [41] The FTC does not always enforce its regulations.

Many celebrities also promote products on Instagram and people have called into question their disclosure of sponsored content. The FTC has been planning on becoming more strict with its guidelines, also claiming that the #ad or #sponsored hashtags may not be strong enough indicators that the Instagram post is a paid advertisement. [42] Michael Ostheimer, a deputy in the FTC's Ad Practices Division, noted that the enforcements may make Instagram endorsements seem less authentic and therefore hurt the medium's marketing power for businesses. [42]

In a recent April 2017 press release from the FTC, it was stated that they sent out more than 90 letters to influencers reminding them that they need to disclose their content as an advertisement and their affiliation with the brand. [43] The press release also included that the frequently used #sp, #partner, or thank you to a brand, is often still unclear to consumers that the accompanying post is a paid advertisement. [43]


Some users choose to purchase followers through third-party apps. This is often motivated by the desire to have more followers on one's account, and subsequent increases in likes and comments, in order to appear more popular among one's social network on Instagram. Multiple celebrities or bloggers are presumed to have paid for followers as evidenced by dramatic increases in followers, comments, and likes, sometimes within a mere few hours [44]. This raises ethical concerns related to authenticity in that these followers are not autonomous users who chose to follow the account, but rather they are purchased. Furthermore, this adds to the growing pressure on social media to appear popular on these social network sites.


As Instagram has grown more popular and users have accumulated larger numbers of followers, some Instagram users, mainly teenage girls, have created "Finstagram" (short for fake Instagram) accounts, better known as "Finstas." These accounts are also known as "Sinstas" (short for second Instagram) accounts. A users main Instagram account is then referred to as a 'Rinsta", short for real Instagram. Finsta accounts aren't subject to the same norms usually present on social media, and users are able to share more personal photos with a smaller audience where the pressure to get a lot of likes is significantly lower. These kinds of accounts are typically set to “private,” making it difficult to identify their owners without first seeing the photos the account owner has posted. A finsta account is a place to share ugly or embarrassing photos, post about inside jokes, go on long rants, or post about anything that should not be seen in the public eye. [45]

Although Finsta accounts are intended for a smaller audience, Paul Booth, associate professor at DePaul University’s College of Communication, warns that users who have created Finstas still run the risk of the content they have created being leaked to the public. Booth noted, “Someone could also share it, or maybe a friend gets angry at you and sends it to everyone.” He continued, “You can also get hacked. Nothing that is online is ever private – that’s why it’s important to make sure everything you put online you’d be comfortable with your grandparents and teachers seeing.” [46]

Younger users have also taken advantage of Finstas for the ability to post without judgment from their family members or educators. The National Cybersecurity Alliance released a study that found 60% of teen Internet users have created online accounts of which their parents were unaware. [47]The growing prevalence of Finsta accounts may be increasing this percentage, making it more difficult for parents to monitor their children’s social media usage and ensure that they are using it safely and responsibly.

The New York Times warned that the creation of Finsta accounts may be indicative of adolescent insecurity and an increasing reliance on “likes” for self-validation. Finstas act as a vehicle to escape the pressure to get a lot of likes or to present a perfectly manicured self-portrayal online. [48]


In the Terms of Use section on Instagram, it explicitly prohibits the posting of nude, partially nude, or sexually suggestive photos.[49] However, porn sites and spammers maliciously use hashtags to gain a presence on Instagram and spam posts of inappropriate content. Since there is no way to flag inappropriate comments, the only way to rid these spammers is to delete their accounts. In spite of this, spammers are quick to repost images under newly created accounts while Instagram is unable to keep up with deleting the new accounts, consequently struggling to prevent the problem.[50] As a result of the nudity clause, popular photographer Daniel Arnold was blocked out of Instagram after posting a photo of topless women. Instagram stated that even though he considered the nudity to be art, it violated their policy of use.[51]

Free the Nipple: Due to censorship issues surrounding the differences between female and male nudity, people identifying as women break rules outlined in Instagram's guidelines. While this is considered to be graphic content for women, men on Instagram are allowed to post images with their nipples showing. Their policies surrounding the appropriateness of certain nude images states "It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed". [52] This raises questions about consistency in enforcing their policies and how they define nudity. The exception of post-mastectomy scarring and active breastfeeding also represent Instagram's openness to certain kinds of nudity which is considered appropriate. Celebrity advocates include Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Caitlin Stasey, who publish content surrounding the issue. In a public statement, CEO Kevin Systrom explicitly referenced Apple's policies and standards concerning nudity. To remain available for download on Apple devices, the application must abide by Apple's rules.[53]

In October 2014, comedienne Chelsea Handler protested Instagram's nudity policy by posting a topless photo of her side-by-side with Vladimir Putin. She mimicked a photo of Putin shirtless on a horse and appeared topless on a horse in her own photo. Instagram removed the photo, and she called the app "sexist" on Twitter when she tweeted the photo and said, "Taking this down is sexist. I have every right to show I have a better body than Putin." Twitter did not remove her photo. [54] She continued with her backlash by tweeting, "If a man posts a photo of his nipples, it's ok, but not a woman? Are we in 1825?"[55] She continued to speak out against Instagram in 2015 by posting a number of partially-nude photos that were eventually deleted by the app.[56]


Instagram has become notorious for spam-based accounts where users are spammed with generic comments asking them to go to external websites. Users are asked to report the comments and then delete them. Instagram has stated that they tackle spam every day and are trying to improve the app for users.[57] However, this spam problem is tedious and frustrating for the app's regular users to deal with. Currently, Instagram is still suffering heavily from spam accounts; a 2015 research study by a group of Italian security analysts found that about 30% of Instagram accounts are inactive and an estimated 8% of the total accounts behave like automated spam bots.[58] There is a huge "follower economy" where people make money by using thousands of fake accounts to like content and follow other accounts. Instagram users can purchase thousands of followers and likes at bundle prices, such as 1000 followers for $5.[59]

This is a large ethical issue because the business of selling bot followers and likes is legally murky and violates Instagram's terms of use. It also poses ethical concerns for users who build up their following organically; account users using the money to purchase the appearance of popularity could be perceived as 'cheating'. The reputations of celebrities, companies, or politicians may be harmed if the public finds out they are artificially boosting their Instagram presence and impact via bots. Some hotels actually offer free rooms and other free services to Instagram users who have enough followers, which also raises ethical concerns because some people might exploit the system by using the black market of spam bots.[60] Instagram is also a place for heavy advertising to occur, but the existence of automated spam bots obscures the quality of Instagram's advertising capabilities.


Harassment is a significant problem on most social media platforms. On Instagram, users can post embarrassing photos of other users, post rude comments under another user’s photo, and tag users in public photos.[61] In 2016, Instagram introduced several new features aimed at alleviating cyberbullying on the platform. Users are now able to disable comments, “like” comments, and remove followers from private accounts.[62] These features are meant to promote positivity and reduce the presence of negative content and problematic users from the platform.[62] Users can also take advantage of Instagram’s new filtering tool, which allows for the hiding of particular words and phrases that an individual user doesn’t want to see in their comments.[63] The feature was primarily made available to business and celebrities, but Instagram quickly implemented the feature for all users to promote a more positive culture on their platform: “‘To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment.’”[63]

Hashtag Bans

In 2015, Instagram banned a certain number of hashtags by making certain terms unsearchable. Users could still use the hashtags, but they were rendered useless because no other users could find the photos through those tags. Most notably, they banned the hashtag "#curvy," which had been used to celebrate body positivity among many female users. An Instagram rep explained that they banned the term because it was being used to share content that violated the site's community guidelines around nudity.[64] Many users were upset with this ban since it targeted a certain body type. Ultimately, Instagram reversed the ban for this particular hashtag.[65] However, there are some hashtags that are still banned (especially relating to sex, drugs, or illegal activity).[66] These hashtag bans serve as a way for the company to impose its set of views and ideas on its users while enforcing a particular set of values and inherently passing judgment on particular terms.


The popularity of posting pictures and videos on Instagram of one's possessions and extravagant vacations has led to incrimination. Investigators commonly follow their subjects on social media to track their spending and potentially illegal activity [67]. For instance, after actor and rapper 50 Cent declared bankruptcy and shortly thereafter posted a picture of him surrounded by stacks of $100 bills, he received a court summons to explain the situation. In other cases, federal agents have used Instagram posts as evidence for fraud. For instance, children of wealthy individuals under investigation have incriminated their families of fraud and tax evasion by means of posting purchases or undocumented assets on the platform [68]. In December 2013, a Florida man was charged with 142 felonies after investigators found incriminating evidence on Instagram containing illegal guns, drugs, and money. He had been under investigation for theft, and police were able to fortify his involvement in the case using this evidence [69].


Wealthy Kids Stir Up Controversy In April 2012, trending habits among wealthy teens on Instagram sparked an online controversy, resulting in harsh criticism from the media and community. Wealthy kids used special hashtags to designate images that revealed their family's assets. These images were all edited with a gold frame surrounding the image. The collection of photos were assembled and posted to a popular blogging site, Tumblr, under the title "Rich Kids Of Instagram." The online community responded to these images with hateful messages and tweets.[70]

The 'Rich Kids of Instagram' inspired E! to create a reality television show based on them called '#Rich Kids of Beverly Hills.' It chronicled their luxurious lives and centered around their obsession with social media. The show has had mixed reviews. It has been criticized for promoting a materialistic lifestyle.

In 2017, California teenager, Obdulia Sanchez, was on Instagram, live-streaming while driving with her younger sister, Jacqueline Sanchez. Sanchez was live streaming the drive when her car swerved and her sister, Jacqueline, was ejected out of the window, killing her. After the crash, Sanchez continued to film her sister's death on Instagram, which someone saved and shared before it was deleted. In a PS section of a letter, justifying her actions, Sanchez claimed, "I made that video because I knew I had more than 5K followers. It was the only way my sister would get a decent burial." [71]. As of February 8, 2018, Sanchez has been guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter, DUI and child endangerment. The DUI came from Sanchez's reported 0.1% BAC at the time of the crash. She has been sentenced to six years with a maximum punishment of 12 [72].

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