By Riley Dauber
In recent years, people started using social media platforms daily. Apps like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok offer different purposes and allow users to focus on varying types of content.
Students at Washington College frequently use social media to communicate with friends and manage club accounts. According to juniors Claire Garretson and Maddie Fernandez, advertising club events and updates on Instagram allows them to reach a broader group of people.
Despite their popularity and efficiency, social media apps have shifted in function over the years. Some apps have completely rebranded or introduced new features that are either positively or negatively received by users.
For example, following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the app rebranded and changed its name to X on July 31.
According to CBS News and Musk, the name change was to mark the switch in ownership and celebrate a new direction for the platform.
“The Twitter name made sense when it was just 140-character messages going back and forth — like bird tweeting — but now you can post almost anything, including several hours of video. In the months to come, we will add comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world,” Musk said in a tweet.
For Garretson, the switch from Twitter to X was confusing.
“Twitter had a lot of social capital and brand recognition tied to the name of the app, and the way that the name branded the rest of the features,” Garretson said. “It’s one thing to tweet on Twitter, but I can’t really wrap my head around ‘x-ing’ on X.”
Along with the name change, X also faced criticism for a lack of censorship and an uptick in hate speech, according to prior Elm coverage.
In response to the backlash against Twitter and its new billionaire owner, Meta introduced a new subset of their Instagram platform on July 5: an app called Threads.
According to Engineering at Meta, Threads was designed to resemble “a text-based conversations app, but with one very key, distinctive goal — being an app that would allow people to share their content across multiple platforms.”
When the app initially released, users were encouraged to create an account that could connect to their Instagram profile — similar to the Messenger feature on Facebook.
Although the app was popular at first — with over 100 million people signing up according to Engineering at Meta — its cultural relevance started to dwindle.
According to Time, “many celebrities and regular users are no longer posting on the app, while analysts contend that the platform lacks the cultural relevance or core communities to keep people engaged.”
Fernandez initially created a Threads account, but was disappointed when she noticed the lack of users.
“I think if everybody had made an account and was active, I would use [Threads] a lot more frequently, but it was pretty quiet,” Fernandez said. “It seemed like they launched it before they were ready just to compete with X.”
Instagram creating its own version of X highlights an ever-growing trend for the app. The platform’s main function was, at first, to share photos with friends. Now the app features stories that disappear after 24 hours — sounds awfully familiar to Snapchat’s main feature — and a separate search page for Reels, Instagram’s version of the one-minute videos made popular by TikTok.
“At first, I thought it was dumb when Instagram launched stories and Reels since that wasn’t the purpose of the platform, but I feel like stories on Snapchat vs. Instagram are so different, along with Reels vs. TikToks,” Fernandez said. “They’re the same…feature, but they end up evolving into their own thing.”
Garretson agrees, pointing out that Instagram has differentiated these familiar features specifically for their platform.
Although stories disappear after 24 hours in the same vein as Snapchat, Instagram users can specifically use the stories feature to share less serious and more temporary content with their followers compared to a main account photo spread. Instagram also lacks the direct photo and video messaging feature that is a staple of Snapchat, which allows users to directly interact with their friends in an informal way.
“While the parallels are still clear and everyone can see that the stories and Reels were copied from other apps, they have become so well-integrated that users have stopped holding it against them and instead embraced these features as opportunities,” Garretson said.
Reels allow Instagram users to post short, one-minute videos to their feed, or they can scroll through the discover page and watch other creators’ videos, similar to TikTok.
Instagram is not the only app known for borrowing content from other platforms. According to AP News, TikTok created a “TikTok Now” feature that mimicked the popular app BeReal. Users were encouraged to take a front-facing and back-facing photo at a random time each day.
The feature, originally released in September 2022, was discontinued in June 2023 after it failed to gain popularity and praise from users, according to AP News.
Unlike stories and Reels on Instagram, TikTok’s version of BeReal did not attempt to differentiate itself from the original source material.
“I think if the trend of copying and pasting between apps continues too much…apps will stop differentiating themselves and all start to look the same,” Garretson said.
As these social media apps continue to change well into the future — including Musk’s attempt to turn X into a “super app” — users will voice their feelings to the new features. Whether it is poking fun at X’s rebranding or bullying TikTok Now out of existence, it is clear that users’ response to new aspects plays an integral role in creating the ideal social media platform.