How I Grew Attached to Instagram’s TikTok Copycat, Reels

  • I’ve purposefully steered clear of TikTok to avoid its addictive algorithm.
  • But Instagram copied the popular video-sharing app in August 2020, sucking me in instead.
  • My Reels obsession proves that the social media giant copying TikTok worked: I spend more time on the app.

I’ve avoided downloading TikTok because I didn’t want another social media app on my phone that I know I would get addicted to.

I already absentmindedly spend hours peruse Instagram for palate-cleansing content, and lately, I’ve specifically taken to scrolling through the Explore tab on the app, where videos appear in an elongated rectangle, much like on TikTok.

Without noticing it, an hour had passed as I scrolled through the suggested videos that Instagram’s algorithm spat at me. And now, there’s an entire button devoted only to Reels at the bottom of the screen.

But my obsession with Reels proves that the TikTok copycat — rolled out in August 2020 — has gotten me as addicted as I would have been had I actually downloaded TikTok.

And the result? I’ve spent more time on the app, an average of an hour a day according to Instagram.

Instagram is swarming with TikTok videos

The thing about Instagram Reels is that a lot of the videos posted appear to come from TikTok, since the TikTok logo is visible in them.

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TikTok has become a breeding ground for a new generation of content creators and a fresh brand of digital culture. Its algorithm is notoriously addictive, learning quickly what kind of content users are most likely to engage with.

Instagram took note and responded with a similar feature, allowing users to post short-form videos on the platform.

But my time spent (or wasted?) watching Reels has left me scratching my head about one thing: how many of these videos originated on TikTok and were just crossposted to Instagram? And since I don’t have TikTok (and remain adamant about keeping it off my phone) I’m blind in knowing what trends are specific to it.

Take the Reels I saw featuring users lip-syncing to someone saying “nobody’s gonna know,” while doing something they were trying to hide. As Know Your Meme explains, it’s a TikTok trend featuring an audio clip from the TV show “Bad Girls Club.”

I know for a fact that one such video, one that went viral and was reported by multiple outlets, came from TikTok. It was one about a traveler who stuffed a backpack under her sweatshirt, making her appear pregnant, to avoid paying a carry-on fee.

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If so much content is spilling over from TikTok, Instagram is somewhat benefiting from the videos that are being created on — and for — its competitor. 

Like with many forms of technology, I’m left conflicted

The Reels I watch bring me joy and leave me laughing in stitches every time. I send at least five a day to my sister.

There’s an Australian influencer who spoofs the early 2000s show “H20” about a group of friends who turn into mermaids when they come into contact with water. 

There are videos of cats falling off furniture set to a poorly-played flute rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”

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There are videos making fun of how millennials’ parents would get angry when you turned on the lights while riding in the backseat of a car at night.

Like most things related to the internet and social media companies, my feelings are two-pronged — I’m worried about how addictive the apps are but also attached to the technology that can offer me a reprieve after a long workday.

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