In 2014, Instagram did a major ‘user cleansing’. This user cleansing, otherwise known as the “Instagram Purge” removed automated accounts in the social media app. Most of these accounts are self-operated bots that have different purposes. These bots may artificially increase someone’s social media following, promote products through spamming, or worse, perform phishing and other malicious online activities. Instagram wants to remove these fake accounts due to the aforementioned reasons, and also to promote genuine user interaction. The social media app has maintained its daily cleansing of fake followers ever since.
These fake accounts follow most celebrities and other famous Instagram users. When the Instagram purge happened overnight, everyone was shocked with how the number of their followers plunged to thousands down, and even millions.
Justin Bieber’s Instagram account was one of the most affected during this cleansing. The musician lost 3.5 million followers in a span of 24 hours. Hip-hop artist Akon also lost half of his Instagram followers. Other popular users affected were Tyga, Kim Kardashian and Ma$e, who lost around 1-2 million followers in their accounts.
While this is seen as a security improvement done by Instagram, some celebrities and other personalities are furious over the change. Owning an Instagram account is perceived as a popularity by numbers. Like other follow-based apps, more followers means increased popularity. The negative reaction towards the bot removal is understandable in this perspective.
Additionally, this was done by Instagram to prevent users from gaining fans through 3rd party websites, offering followers in exchange for money. This is in conflict to Instagram’s recently offered Sponsored Content, which is their own paid advertising system. Their Sponsored Content program aims to provide real engagement from targeted users.
Aspiring Instagram personalities also reacted to the cleansing. Some of them expressed anger, frustration, and confusion upon losing a large amount of following in a short period of time. Even Instagram’s own account in the photo-sharing app was not spared from the follower removals, causing millions to be deducted from the numbers.
Whether this event is seen as good or bad news all depends on one’s perspective. If users are all about bragging rights and putting up a ‘fame’ facade, then this is an undesirable feat. Forming impressions on social media are important to some extent. It is sometimes effective to build more following if other users can see that your account already has several fans. However, getting more followers does not mean having “real” fans. In the end, only real people–not bots, can show genuine engagement.