I joined an Instagram ‘like pod’ and this is what happened…

Instagram is a weird place isn’t it.

I doubt I could have predicted at 16 years old whilst holding my iPhone 3G, picking my first Instagram handle (bethlalalala), what a massive part of history I was entering into. Yeah, we had Facebook, but MSN was still kicking about & Skype was having a moment. Twitter wasn’t cool yet. The ‘social media’ tsunami hadn’t hit & I was just here for the vintage filters.

The app was a bit shit, but it saved scrolling through albums and albums of photos on people’s Facebook profiles just to find that 1, potentially incriminating photo of your ex on holiday with his arm around a holiday rep.

You could log on to Instagram at 3am on a Sunday morning and watch your best mate uploading 6 photos in a row of her absolutely hammered in a nightclub toilet & know she was having a lovely time.
Getting over 11 likes was exciting & we’d all upload low quality images of a full English, topped with a X PRO 2 filter & feel satisfied with our efforts.

Fast forward 8 years & everything has changed. Just using the one app I can completely oversaturate my brain with content. Besides endlessly scrolling through posts, there are now stories to occupy my time, polls, ‘ask a question’ features; I know everything I need to know about all my favourite influencers, but I’ve only read 1 chapter of a book this month.
My ‘explore’ page is all nutrition/exercise advice from people who’re Facetune-ing their waists & butts anyway.

No one has any problems, but if they do, they’re boiled down for you in a handy picture carousel & 6 paragraphs. You’ll leave their post feeling as though, somehow, your problems aren’t glossy enough.

Like I said, it’s a weird place.

And yet, despite knowing I’m in a shit storm of fakery, I continue to build my profile on a daily basis, because I’m not an idiot & I know just how powerful social media can be to a creative like myself.

From around the age of 14, my friends & I have had a running joke that I ‘live for likes’ & I don’t think they’re wrong. During the golden age of Facebook, I would spend a good 45 minutes perfectly manicuring a status update, ensuring it would get maximum engagement & those all important ‘likes’ and when we all made the switch to Instagram, nothing really changed.
I still enjoy a post of mine being popular (don’t lie, we all do) & I won’t pretend I don’t put effort into keeping my online persona shiny.

Until fairly recently, a good post for me on Instagram would get around 300 likes & I was pretty happy with that. But then Instagram changed it’s algorithm. (If this is new information to you, it basically means Instagram is now choosing what you see on your feed, instead of posts being in chronological order or any other sort of logical system). The new algorithm messed up my posts. I went back down to 100/150 likes, my engagement and profile views were the lowest they’d been in ages.

So I did a swift google & came across an article: ‘ways to beat the new algorithm – engagement pods’. Otherwise known as ‘like pods’. I was pretty intrigued. I knew that some mentalists out there pay for followers, likes or even comments, but I’d never heard of pods before. They sounded friendly.
The forum I was on described them as ‘a group of people who agree to interact with each others posts, in order to boost the post’s engagement, so that it appears higher up in peoples feeds’; sounded pretty logical to me.
Better yet, they appeared to be free.
The only problem was how to get into one.

This is where I probably offended lots of people. I went on the hunt for profiles with lots of followers & likes who (in my humble opinion) weren’t deserving of so much engagement. I then followed them & cut right to the chase in a direct message.

‘Hey hun, I was just wondering if you’re part of an engagement pod, I’m looking to get into one.’

LOTS of people ignored me but a few lovely gals got back to me & said that, yes they were. I then got added into an Instagram DM group, with about 20 other people. The rules were simple; every time you create a new post, you put a link to it in the group and everyone has to like and comment on it.
I lasted 24 hours.
These people were Instagram animals & posted about 5 times a day.
After a few stern messages from the admins that I wasn’t engaging enough, I quit.

So I tried something else. This took a little more digging & even when I eventually thought I knew what I was doing, I realised I was wrong & it took me another day to figure it out.
Turns out, there is an app called Telegram. It’s similar to Whatsapp in it’s layout, yet it seems to be mainly run by robots. There are hundreds, potentially thousands of ‘like pods’ that exist on this app but to join them, you have to be sent a direct link.
Some of them even have criteria to join, e.g. 10,000 followers, nature bloggers only etc.
So I downloaded Telegram but I had no links.
Eventually I found a list on the internet of maybe 25 different groups.
I was eligible to join 4, so I did.

These groups all have different rules, but mainly there are 2 types. LIKEX24 is the first kind I joined, which means that you have to ‘like/comment’ on every post in the group for the last 24 hours, before posting your own. I did this, methodically, painstakingly, for maybe an hour. I didn’t miss one. Then, I posted my own link. But barely anyone liked it! And new people were joining all the time!
I was outraged & I found myself posting in the group,

‘Excuse me, you haven’t liked my post’.

It was annoying, it had taken me an hour of my life, have some decency, people!
But I got nowhere & eventually someone accused me of not doing my 24 hours worth & I was banned. Maybe I was just too annoying, but I wouldn’t recommend these groups, you will join as a normal person & leave as a snitch with a ‘can I speak to the manager’ haircut.

The last type of group I tried actually worked. It’s operated by robots, although the admins are human (so they say). Every 3 hours, they have a ‘round’ & they shout at you to ‘DROP’, so you send over your username, then you wait. After about half an hour, the round begins & the robot will send you a list of usernames for you to copy and paste into an Instagram direct message. You then have 2 hours to go through this list & like the most recent post of each username.

This sounds pretty simple but when you consider that sometimes the list has 700 accounts, it gets tedious very quickly. If you don’t like every post, the robots will tell you you’re ‘leeching’ and eventually you’ll get banned.
The other problem is that I REALLY didn’t like a lot of the posts I was being told to interact with. I had to boycott the system a few times for misogynists or Trump supporters & eventually my leeching status was pretty high.

I was also very surprised at some of the profiles I came across, who were also using the system.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was one, Heather McCartney another, lots and LOTS of influencers.
Other accounts had maybe 100 followers & 1 post of a sports car with 10,000 likes.
Infact I came across lots & lots of car profiles & LOTS of straight male motivational speakers referring to women as their ‘Queens’, which somehow made me more uncomfortable than if they’d called us bitches.

It was fascinating & boring all at the same time.

However, within an hour of submitting my username to the round, my likes on a post would rise to between 500/800 & my time on all those horrendous profiles seemed slightly more justified.

But was it? Was a few hundred likes really worth wasting an hour and a half of my life EVERY time I wanted to post? Was it really worth having to coincide my posts with these ‘rounds’?

After a few successful posts of about 800 likes, I did get accepted into a few elitist apps that offer free food/gifts/events to influencers who get a decent amount of engagement.

But even with those perks, the answer in my opinion is still, NO.
So I stopped.

I could have carried on, or I could have started paying for the service & my likes would still have read as 700/800/900 without me having to do anything, but I am fundamentally an honest person & lying makes me feel weird, so I deleted Telegram & I feel much better for it.
I’m posting when I want to again & I smile when I see my genuine real life friends liking & commenting on what I’ve been up to.

After this strange period of phone obsession & weirdness, I took a break, went on holiday & got out of my routine for a bit. I drank wine & chatted to friends and after a few days, my perspective shifted & I felt like a normal person again.
‘Jesus Christ, it’s just a website, why did I even care so much’ was one thought that flickered through my head one evening.

But the reality is clear, people do care. We’re spending hours & hours of our lives staring at a screen showing edited photos & heightened realities and making ourselves feel like shit. Seriously, this website is going to fuck with your mental health, if you let it.

So, in a bid to combat this, I recently started deleting Instagram during the day & re-downloading it for an hour at night.
And after I’d deleted it, I’d find myself unlocking my phone, finger hovering over where the app used to be & realise I’d gone into a trance.
The only thing that would snap me out of it was Instagram not being there.
Then I’d think,
Why am I on my phone again?
I don’t even remember picking up my phone
Which led to healthier thoughts like…
Ah well, perhaps I should do some exercise/make dinner/call my mum

My habits are getting much better now & although I slip up sometimes, I’ve started to recognise when I’m on my phone too much & how much of a difference it makes to my mood & motivation when I don’t monitor my scrolling.

When I’m out for dinner or drinks, my phone stays out, but face down on the table, only to be picked up for 1 token photo or funny moments. I’m not scrolling incessantly, I don’t bounce between apps reading through the same things over & over or responding to trolls on political articles. (I’ve permanently deleted Twitter & Facebook off my phone & only kept messenger, and I don’t miss them at all)
I can check my Facebook notifications every now and again on my laptop, purely for events.

I’m much happier, calmer & relaxed in social situations & I’m definitely more focussed. (I managed to write this, after 2 months not writing anything)

And now, if I’m honest, I don’t know how to end this, because frankly when I started writing, I thought it might be a bit embarrassing to admit to seeking these things out. But from seeing the amount of influencers on these groups, I know I’m definitely not the only one who has done it & it definitely seems like the direction the world is going in. So, I’d rather share this experience & potentially start a conversation surrounding mental health/social media, than have Bexx1136 from the Isle of Man think I have 800 likes on a picture when I really couldn’t give a crap anymore, anyway.

I will however, continue to make cute posts because a part of me enjoys it & if my presence grows, it grows & it’ll be because my content is good & my voice is strong. Not because I’m paying a robot to send 500 likes my way. I also hope reading this might make some of you think twice before believing everything you see on your feed. Have a go on Facetune yourself if you don’t believe me, it’s wild! Go outside, see your mates & put your phones in your bag for the night. You’ll have loads of battery left for ordering taxis & for messaging everyone later, to let them know you’re home safe.

xxx

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