What is Reels by Instagram? Well it's basically just TikTok, the extremely popular short video sharing app that Trump recently declared a "national emergency" in an executive order. And I mean that literally: many of the Reels currently hosted on Instagram are just ripped directly from TikTok
Reels by Instagram is Facebook's attempt at stealing TikTok's valor before the latter app is legislated out of existence in the United States amid paranoia about its parent companies, Bytedance. This is Facebook's general approach to competition—to absorb it completely. According to Mark Zuckerberg during last month's congressional hearing, this was part of the motivation for acquiring Instagram at the time, another app it tried to clone before it just bought it. You might also remember Snapchat had a brief moment in the sun as possibly viable social media competitor, until Facebook copied its features with Instagram Stories and crushed its dreams.
There are some Reels that have made me laugh. They all have one thing in common: the TikTok watermark, indicating that they have been downloaded and reuploaded to Reels. Sometimes these Reels are reuploads from the original creators. Sometimes it's not clear who is reuploading them. Although the Reels that are marked as "featured" by Instagram are all original content, many verified members of the platform are also reuploading videos from TikTok rather than making their own content for Reels. In essence, Reels by Instagram is being treated by its users as an upload mirror for TikTok.
That's great for TikTok, and a form of sharing that TikTok was designed to encourage. For Instagram, it's not a great look, showing how redundant and derivative Reels is.
The way that TikTok allows users to share videos is convenient for both the creators, and the people who make threads of their favorite TikToks on Twitter. users can download TikToks to their phone, though the videos will contain a prominent watermark of TikTok's logo, as well as an end card featuring the name of the creator's account. This is perfect for building an audience off of TikTok if you're a creator, and for making sure you credit people if you're not a creator. It's easy to see why there are so many TikToks on Reels; TikTok has made it as easy as possible to reupload content without losing the original attribution, or TikTok's branding. Essentially, every TikTok that goes viral off platform, including on Reels, is a great ad for TikTok.
Instagram has made its own push to have content creators make use of the platform. When you scroll through Reels, which looks and feels unmistakably like TikTok, there are some Reels that have been marked as "featured," indicating that Instagram is pushing them to the top of the feed. Unfortunately, the featured Reels that are put in my feed by the platform are stilted and unfunny. Unlike TikTok's anarchic teenage mess of content, Reels already feels like it's been taken over by career minded influencers for whom spontaneity is a dirty word.
The people who are making their own content specifically for Reels have taken up premium space in my mind. It's with those creators that the entire platform rests. In order for Reels to thrive, it has to create its own identity, not just be another place where creators post their videos after they already posted them to TikTok. There isn't enough to differentiate between the platforms for me to want to check out Reels on my own. I check Instagram a couple times a day, and I know that if it weren't for my boss reminding me that Reels exists, I would have just forgotten about it.