Why Instagram asks users to create second accounts
An in-app notice calls on users to ‘try a new account.’ Can a fresh start keep people from losing their enthusiasm for the platform?
Instagram has quietly rolled out a pop-up over the past year that encourages users to "try a new account." The notice says it will help people "keep up with a smaller group of friends" and explore their interests more easily.
The pop-up confronts single-account users when they long-press the profile icon at the bottom of their feed, or tap their profile username. From there, with a few taps, they can make a second account without logging out of the existing one.
Users have a choice of whether to link accounts—treating the second account as an extension of their first, like a new viewer profile in Netflix — or as a totally separate account with its own login, said Christine Pai, a spokeswoman for Instagram’s parent, Meta Platforms, Inc. That determines whether Instagram considers this to be one active user or multiple. If the two accounts aren’t linked, a user can delete one with no impact on the other.
From Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C., social media’s benefits and detriments are the subject of much debate. If social media, and Instagram in particular, can be blamed for increases in anxiety and depression, would a second account make things better or worse? And is creating a second account easier than trying to clean up a feed overrun with total strangers, long-forgotten interests and ads that mean nothing to you?
Ms. Pai wouldn’t say when the company rolled out the tool or how many people have created new accounts using it. Social-media observers say the move is a reaction to users changing how they choose to interact online—from public-facing, like-hungry posts to more private discussions among closer-knit groups. And they say Instagram and Meta, formerly Facebook Inc., benefit by increasing engagement—and ad revenue—among people who might have become apathetic.
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The app positions itself to get an advertising boost from users who engage more with content in a fresh account with fewer friends and interests than they might have in an older, bloated account, said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, a Los Angeles-based investment firm.
While users can set their Instagram accounts to private or share posts with "Close Friends" within the app, many already do create a second account—often referred to as a "finsta," derived from "fake insta." Unlike the Facebook social network, which insists on one account for each user, Instagram has always been open to multiple accounts for a single user.
Instagram in May had 108 million daily active people in the U.S. but 126 million daily active accounts, according to internal company documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal. This suggests that 18 million were used by people with more than one account.
"We know people come to Instagram to connect with those closest to them and to explore their many interests," Ms. Pai said in a statement. "By allowing the creation of multiple accounts, whether it be for professional or personal purposes, we hope to give people more ways to express themselves and have more control over the content they see and share." She added that, with this tool, the process "can be seamless."
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Many users who have turned their Instagram accounts into public billboards for their personal brands no longer use them for connecting and sharing with people they know. They have also grown tired of algorithms deciding what they see and what content of theirs others see, said Stacy Jones, chief executive of influencer-marketing company Hollywood Branded. Secondary accounts might help users feel that they are in a safer space and allow them to be more candid.
"Instagram has identified a need in the marketplace for a return to privacy, or it would not be promoting the option," Ms. Jones said. "There is a shift, or at least an acknowledgment, that we as humans don’t necessarily want to live only public lives."
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Meta is facing mounting concerns over how it attracts and affects young people. In November, a coalition of states began investigating whether the company—and Instagram in particular—violated consumer-protection laws by using techniques to drive up engagement among its younger users.
"In the current social-media climate, which has become toxic in some ways, Instagram is pivoting to focus more on intimate and gated communities for those users that want it," Mr. Ives said. "If it doesn’t, those users will find places that will."