by Taylor Lorenzhandjob The New York Times Company
LOS ANGELES — Last month, singer Courtney Love, who keeps a keen eye on social media trends, posted a cryptic message on Instagram.
“Many people don’t understand Gen-Z,” she wrote. “I think they’re funnier than any other generation I’ve ever known.”
Together Love’s Instagram post was a blurry picture of herself and a gallery of disjointed and messy screen-shot memes at random photos, filled with nonsensical text. Love scoffed at several accounts that had posted this type of content and on Wednesday highlighted even more of them, saying it “made her think in memes.”
Luv was copying and praising a social media post of sorts, which is now doing the rounds on Instagram. This style of posting involves people – usually young people – publishing low-quality images, videos or comments online. On Instagram, this means clogging people’s feeds with indiscriminate content, often accompanied by humorous or confessional remarks.
The growing ecosystem of Instagram accounts has embraced this text-heavy posting style, which has exploded in popularity among Gen Z users during the pandemic. The trend has transformed Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo and video-based app, into a network of microblogs and a destination for written expression.
Many of these Instagram accounts, with absurd names like @ripclairo, @botoxqueen.1968 and @carti_xcx, may seem disorganized to the casual observer. Yet there are similarities in the accounts. Nearly all feature screenshots of text on top of photos, created using the anonymous confession app Whisper, or Instagram’s “Create” mode, which lets people design text posts over gradient backgrounds. The posts are also mixed with uncredited images, viral videos and humorous content.
“You just post your thoughts,” said 20-year-old Mia Morongel, creator of the @lifes.a.bender Instagram account, which has more than 134,000 followers. “It’s like Twitter, but for Instagram. It’s like a blog where you’re broadcasting personal thoughts and feelings.”
Over the years, Twitter served the same purpose, repackaging and reposting the most engaging tweets by meme accounts and influencers on Instagram. Recognizing this change, Twitter launched its own Instagram account in 2017 to make it easier for users to easily share Tweets as Instagram Stories.
But Twitter posts have a limit of 280 characters. And for Gen Z users, combining text, tools like the Whisper app and Instagram create mode have blended into a viral alchemy that resonates with their age group.
Faris Ibrahim, 18, who posted this style on his Instagram page @puddle_boot, said: “If you see someone following a meme page where they usually post tweets , so they have a distinct sense of humour, which Gen Z considers cool.” .
In a recent post, 15-year-old Tanisha Chetty, who runs the Instagram page @life.is.not.a.soup, posted a picture of a mattress in a room covered in graffiti. On it was a message in large black and white text that read: “We should care less about mental support. Girl, go crazy! You’re valid.” While the page has only 5,644 followers, the post garnered nearly 30,000 likes and thousands of comments.
These pages have grown during the pandemic as young people turn to Instagram to externalize their innermost IDs and seek connections, said Amanda Brennan, senior director of trends and meme librarian at social media agency XX Artists. “They are very representative of teenagers who have spent the last year communicating solely through the Internet,” she said.
The number of followers of creators who have adopted this posting style has increased. According to statistics from Instagram, @on_a_downward_spiral pages have doubled to nearly half a million in the past six months, while @joan.of.arca accounts have grown by 250% to over 14,100 in the past two months.
The installation of Whisper, the app that emerged about five years ago as a way for people to anonymously share secrets, has also jumped, according to analytics firm SensorTower.
For Instagram, this change has been a boon as it has with TikTok, a short-form video app for young users. While TikTok has seeded many memes into popular culture, more recent memes — such as “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss,” a phrase meant to poke fun at millennial culture — were on TikTok for text-heavy Instagram pages before they went mainstream. gained popularity among
Shaden Ahdi, 21, who runs the Instagram account @mybloodyvirginia with several friends, said: “The Instagram Create Mode posts are definitely for people ages 18 to 23.” “People who were regular TikTok users are using Instagram more.”
Users said that the shift to text-heavy memes on Instagram began about a year ago.
In the early stages of the pandemic last summer, screenshots of people’s overly earnest Facebook status updates became popular on meme accounts that mocked them. But several young users said they don’t like logging into Facebook to create or search for status updates.
Instead, some of them turned to the Whisper app, which lets anyone post text on an image that might be generated or uploaded automatically from your phone. Others used Instagram’s Create Mode tools, which also make it easy to create text posts with just a few clicks. Confessional, highly personal messages paired with seemingly unrelated images allowed for an added layer of humor and irony.
“The inconsistency between photos and text on Whisper is what attracts people,” said Anna Mariani, 19, who co-operates the Instagram page @this.and.a.blaernt.
Whisper did not respond to requests for comment.
Ricky Sans, Instagram’s strategic partner manager for memes, said the Create Mode tools weren’t built for the purpose of text-heavy memes, but “we’re looking at creativity to reinterpret a tool to help with expression and communication.” I like it.”
Yet some meme makers said that as their pages became more popular, Instagram remained absent. Jackie Kendall, 20, said she has two meme accounts banned by the app — she wasn’t told — and is appealing a third ban.
“I couldn’t tell if Instagram was taking really hard work or people were targeting my posts and reporting them,” she said. “I think Instagram needs to do a better job of understanding and communicating with meme pages.”
The relationship between meme creators and Instagram has been sour for a long time. In 2019, Instagram meme creators tried to unionize to force the company to better address issues such as their support requests and restrictions. (Sans was hired later that year.)
In April, Instagram held a “meme summit” where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg answered questions from creators. Yet some popular text-heavy meme pages said they had heard from the company despite attempts to contact the platform.
In a statement, Instagram said, “We listen to and empathize with their concerns and look forward to partnering with as many meme creators as possible to ensure they receive quality support.”
Several text-heavy meme creators said that they had banded together to support each other.
“We have meme families,” said Misha Takeo, 16, who runs the @kawaiicuteidols account. Established creators, known as “nepotism parents,” form networks where they mentor and repost and tag younger creators known as “nepotism babies.”
Some users have even built their audiences on meme pages with cleverly written comments at the bottom of posts. Known as mega commenters, they have added the virality of meme pages to Instagram’s feed algorithm.
Nate Robin, 20, a college junior from Florida, said he has commented on text-heavy memes on Instagram for eight months and always gets the top comments on posts from “key players in every community.” He called himself the “ironic posting community’s niche internet micro celeb”.
Robin was the first to comment on Love’s most recent Instagram post, referring to that community. “I said, ‘Nurse, she’s doing the same thing again,'” he said. “A good comment can not only increase the conversation on a post, but it can also add to the fun and make the post funnier overall.”
His comment has got more than 3,000 likes.
The meme librarian, Brennan, said the rise of Instagram’s text-heavy meme pages is reminiscent of the early years of Tumblr, the blogging platform that was popular in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
“Gen Z is rediscovering the old internet and updating it,” she said.
This article originally appeared in the new York Times.