You might be surprised to hear that Donald Trump's Instagram feed isn't the most insufferable out of all the Republican candidates. Actually, it's disappointingly sterile: most of it is his wife and Trump Hotels. Instead, that unenviable award goes to Rand Paul, for following enough conservative accounts that post so many bad memes that my phone almost broke from how fast I was scrolling down.
If it wasn't apparent, I don't actually have controls over Rand Paul's account. But what is accessible to me is everyone he follows as a public user.
Being, an app created by Adam Mashaal, lets you "be" anyone who isn't locked to you on Instagram. The app grabs a full list of accounts that a user of your choice is is following, then displays their most recent posts. So in a sense, you're seeing their own personal feeds minus private accounts.
"I realized that if we can create a way to see what social media looks like from the perspective of another user, we can learn about their tastes and interests in a way that isn't necessarily represented in what they're posting," Mashaal told me.
Instagram is indeed a mostly one-sided affair. Unlike Facebook's oft-mentioned algorithm, which shoves content into your feed based on an aggregation of your likes, browsing habits, and user histories, Instagram feed has been a blank slate you'd cultivate over the years with friends, strangers, and fellow photo-takers you've deemed worthy of following.
For a long time, Instagram was only useful as your self-curated bubble. But now that I could actually use the app through another person's eyes, it felt weirdly revealing, like a Rear Window sort of voyeurism. This side of us isn't private per se, but it very much isn't on display.
"There's a very visible 'wow' on each person's face the first time they load someone's feed, as if they're discovering social media for the first time. And in a way, they are, considering users have only really experienced social media from their own personal perspective until now," Mashaal told me.
Using Being, my formerly limited view of everything my friends liked or commented on spread out wide. I found out which people were shameless enough to follow a bunch of racy accounts, which friends were brand hawkers or just really liked brands, and which friends branched out to weirder parts of the Instagram community. The same observations, perhaps disappointingly, applied to famous people's accounts: they're really just like us.
If Rand Paul's feed seemed predictable, rest easy knowing the other side of the partisanship is just as predictable: Hillary Clinton's feed feels like a Feminist Mom Starter Kit. There's a lot of Amy Schumer, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, which says most of what you need to know about how she engages with social media, or, perhaps, how staff members run her account.
"That's probably the coolest part [of Being]: you're getting a stripped down, authentic look at what matters to them on a personal level," Mashaal said. "Who someone follows can sometimes be more authentic than what they post."