Social media just isn’t friendly like it used to be. Remember when we had personal conversations with each other on public forums, arranging cinema trips and dates? Remember not cancelling people online for saying something vaguely un-woke? Remember when you only had proper IRL pals and a few musicians on your Timeline? Remember when we trusted? Potentially in a bid to bring back the real connection, man, Instagram have introduced a “Close Friends” feature. You can now pick your nearest and dearest to see your important and necessary Instagram stories of lunches and nights out and your face, speaking. Updates for a select few.
According to Instagram more than 400 million people post stories every single day, which is a lot of fucking information flying about. It was an obvious move to give IG stories the semi-privacy of a finsta account when most of us are toying with the question: does my boss really need to see a blow-by-blow account of my sesh? You could already mute people from seeing your story but this feels negative rather than the positive spin of friendship and inclusion.
Is this a decent feature? Are we going to use it? Will we just abandon doing normal stories when this is a completely normalized use of the app in six months time? Here are the thoughts of some VICE staff writers who waste far too much time posting inane nonsense on their stories:
“Close friends” is Myspace Top 8 for anyone old enough to remember it. Whatever comes of the feature, early feedback suggests we’re having a nice time with it considering half the people I put in my “close friends” group replied saying “awwww babe x”. They don’t know they’re one of 40 but it’s the thought that counts. Maybe this was what we needed: take away the validation and thrill from the response to your thirst traps, those cheap likes and views. We crave the old-fashioned buzz of simply being valued as a true mate.
I’d rather Instagram had given the option to hide people from knowing they’ve got into your club so you can post secret stories for people you fancy without them freaking out that you consider them a “friend”. The only reason anyone posts Instagram stories is for sex: attention, flirting, the acquiring of. This does not usually concern your “close friends”. Once the novelty of a new function has worn off, will we really care about creating ephemeral content if it’s not for the purpose of sex and romance? I, to be frank, will not.
Watch: The Digital Love Industry
I’ve recently pivoted away from Instagram because I can’t be arsed trying to make my life look aspirational, as I spend most of my free time in bed, eating my way to an early gout diagnosis. Instagram could, however, really have won me back had the Close Friends feature been actually good and useful. But it is neither.
I initially assumed it was a list with which I’d be able to bombard selected people with my middling-quality thirst traps without bothering anyone else and, crucially, without the trap-ees knowing that they were on the list. Alas, no. Instagram is a little scab which cannot keep its bitch mouth shut. Instead it goes running to everyone on the list by alerting them with that cursed little green circle, which shows you have selected them as a Close Friend. This is disappointing from the best app to get a shag off, which you would think might have tried to keep its core demographic of People-Who-Want-Attention-But-Don’t-Want-to-Ask-The-Person-They-Want-Attention-From-Specifically-For-It happy by allowing this kind of targeting. Instead, I can now mostly be found posting self deprecating Tweets (also for attention).
There are two versions of me. There’s the version of me that could feasibly be described as “young professional” in an obituary were I to die. She wears a black turtleneck and signs off emails with “kind regards” and walks around the office distractedly. Then there’s the other version of me. She smells like bong smoke, makes other people change her light bulbs, stays up until 2AM scrolling through astrology meme accounts and would probably sleep with her Uber driver. All of which is to say: the “Close Friends” feature allows these two versions to co-exist seamlessly. Colleagues and family members get to think I have my shit together, while everyone gets to see me alone and lip-syncing to N-Dubz.
That said, if I wanted to speak to my actual mates I would just put it in the group chat. So what Instagram really needs is: A) Segregated groups in which the recipients don’t know they’ve been added so you can post carefully targeted thirst traps that your mum won’t accidentally see when you forget to hide it from her and, B) JUST TELL US THE SECRET BEHIND THE ORDER OF THE LIST! I KNOW IT’S NOT RANDOM! WHAT ALGORITHM ARE YOU USING! WHY DO YOU KEEP CHANGING IT! TELL US!
The only two adjectives that could possibly be used to describe my Instagram Story output are "erratic" and "worrying". My colleagues are very nuanced, platform-savvy users of Instagram: a cultured blend of thirst traps, Now Playing Spotify screenshots, still-raw leg tattoos, snapshots of wholesome Sunday morning walks, vegan food, cultural landmark longreads, and then for some reason there’s always a black and white video of a flickering candle in there. I basically post screenshots of notable moments in the week’s football – a leg-breaking tackle, Jose Mourinho throwing Lucozade at an idiot – with forced captions about "loving and appreciating the lads" over the top of it. Occasionally I will do a selfie with the word "Mood" writ large through my nostrils. Sometimes there is drunk footage of me brushing my teeth. On a number of occasions, people have DM’d to aggressively tell me what breaking point I pushed them to that forced them to unfollow. That is when I know I have won.
That is all to say: the “Close Friends” feature means very little to me (Emma Garland is my only close friend, and I think we’re both hurt by that information) but in a year it will probably rule my life. Features like this always make no sense when they launch – remember the contempt we had for Facebook Messenger? – then become socially dominant within a matter of months. I wouldn’t really change anything about Instagram as it currently is. I trust the process. That said: if they just did a blog post clearly defining the order of appearance of people watching your stories in the list of who watched your stories that would solve a lot of fucking mysteries for me.
Pretty much every single night of my formative years was spent in the warm glow of the family computer talking to strangers 3000 miles away about Alkaline Trio and cybering with pedophiles. I treated the internet the way I imagine people without anxiety disorders treat parties – a room full of potential new friends to talk to without inhibition. Equal parts frivolous and exciting. Not a day goes by where I don’t miss it deeply. This approach to socializing online never really left me, though, and as a result I follow way too many fuckers on Instagram. Among my actual friends there are: former colleagues; people I haven’t seen since year 10; Tinder matches from various trips to America; a guy I slept with a few times who keeps a hatchet under his pillow for “self defense”; my haters. Great bunch of lads, great content. But they exist in the farthest flung galaxies of my life. These are people I enjoy sharing my interests and heavily curated personality with but don’t necessarily need to see me rat-arsed at 7 PM on a Tuesday doing DJ Sammy on karaoke. Enter: “Close Friends”.
As a function, “Close Friends” couldn’t be less reflective of its name. As soon as anyone realizes they’ve made it into someone’s group they reply with an enthusiastic “omg blessed” but really it’s just another trick to make you feel like you have any control over the internet at all. My own CF debut was a video of some crystals fired off to a list of people I selected based purely on vibe. It’s still a nonsensically disparate group – lifelong friends rubbing shoulders with my ex’s ex – but the common denominator is that they can be trusted to understand the inner workings of my life, not shame me with “y are you eating a jacket potato in bed” and six ROFL emojis.
That said, this update has come with a redesign which has dangerously placed the "publish" button where "save" used to be. So my highest hope for the CF function is that I become so accustomed to using it that I only accidentally send a sext of my tits to 50 people instead of 900.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.