Instagress, one of the easier-to-use and more affordable of the dozens of websites that create bots to help would-be Instagram influencers rack up followers and engagement, was shuttered today. In a tweet, Instagress said the decision to shut down was due to a “request” by Instagram.
On the Instagress homepage, users are greeted with the message “we are all very sad but it looks like there is nothing we can do at the moment” and are prompted to submit requests for refunds.
The use of automation and “bot farms” has always been a murky issue for Instagram — though it announced plans to purge the platform of fake accounts in December 2014, a Wall Street Journal report a year later cited researchers who said that the effort barely made a dent. Services like Instagress don’t create fake accounts, but they automatically comment on and “like” other people’s Instagram photos, artificially driving up engagement and making accounts appear more popular and valuable. The effect is similar: false or meaningless follower counts can confuse the basic fabric of the platform. And the issue becomes even more complicated when that count is used to get sponsorships and ad deals.
But plenty of lifestyle bloggers, artists, and D-list celebrities who want to make money off sponsored posts have found other ways to game the system. For example, Kelsey McKinney for Racked recently detailed the practice of forming Instagram “pods,” groups of real people who enter agreements to help boost each other’s standing:
“Bloggers who focus on fashion, for instance, might join a comment pod based on a style, or a particular brand, or simply on a color that permeates their content. Inside Facebook groups, text chains, and Instagram DMs, Instagram users are trying to game the algorithm to get views, and along the way they’re creating communities reminiscent of the early days of blogging.”
And in the few hours since Instagress was shuttered, social-media enthusiasts are already suggesting other alternatives including more bot services, a sketchy-looking targeted post site, or simply Instagram’s own sponsored post system. It’s safe to say they’ll adapt, and what a few are already calling the renewal of Instagram’s “war” on inflated follower counts will probably end up being more like a game of whack-a-mole.
When reached via email, an Instagram representative declined to comment beyond pointing to the legal section of the platform’s about page.