If 2020 was the year we declared war on “performative Instagram”, 2022 is the year we have circled right back…but now, under the guise of “casual Instagram”.
For many social media users, long gone are the days of using apps to plan Instagram feeds, using one filter consistently, or even using filters at all. A viral TikTok posted by @cozyakili however, has recently exposed the ways in which Gen Z turn to “casual Instagram”, calling out the ways in which it is curated and performative as ever.
In his video, Akili makes a distinction between performative Instagram – posed, planned and purposeful, to casual Instagram – messy photo dumps with a meme thrown in for good measure.
As Alice Crossley wrote for DAZED in 2020, the Gen Z move to casual posting was seen as a form of “real backlash against influencer culture”, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, when our “appetite for glamour and luxury [was] at an all-time low”. At the start of 2020, socialising came to a halt, content began to run dry, and photo dumps of our mundane weeks were instantly more relatable. This rode off the coattails of the rise of “finsta” accounts on Instagram gaining traction from 2018 – private Instagram accounts to share everyday moments with your inner circle.
These decisive shifts in the online behaviour of Gen Z reflected a desire to share genuine moments with friends online. Quickly noted by social media platforms themselves, Instagram then providing a “close friends” feature, and TikTok a “friends only” sharing option. With this in mind, it seemed the days of performative Instagram were numbered.
But a far cry from its origins, Akili points out the ways in which casual Instagram has merely become another way of conveying a curated reality where photo dumps are a highlight reel and a way to show off your *qUiRKy* personality.
“In photo dumps you’re picking the cutest photos. You’re still curating and narrativizing your life through these photos. Maybe they’re not super edited and they’re not posed, but they’re still strategically selected and put together to convey a specific message”, Akili says.
He compares what casual Instagram has become to reality television in that “[it’s] not reality, but it’s attempting to convince the viewer that what they’re watching is in fact real life”.
What’s more, casual Instagram gives the air of not trying or caring, when ironically, many TikTok users commented under Akili’s video admitting that their casual dumps are “the MOST strategic”, to which Akili replied, “bro same”. Further evidence present on TikTok, with a whole genre of content dedicated to providing Instagram users with caption suggestions for their photo dumps, reiterating the fact that there is very little “casual” left about “casual Instagram”.
None of this is to shame the way anyone chooses to use social media. After all, our online presence is one of the only ways few things to provide the illusion of control, when it comes to how others perceive us. We are free to use this how we choose. But as a generation that continues to grow and develop online, it is interesting to see an increasing level of self-awareness of our social media habits. Among Gen Z, there is both a growing acceptance that all social media is performative, while continuing to use it, feed into it, and believe in it.
One TikTok user commented, “There will never be a way to come across as genuine on an app designed to be performative”.
Now the question is, if all social media is performative, when will we lose the distinction of what is “performative” and what is “casual”?