Why Instagram Questions Became So Annoying

There’s a better use for the social platform’s new tool than spamming your friends.

Taylor Lorenz / The Atlantic via Instagram

Last week, Instagram rolled out Questions, one of its most controversial features yet. The release unleashed a wave of backlash and has been blamed for ending friendships, spamming users, and causing mass unfollows.

The new feature works like this: You post a Questions sticker to your Story, and the sticker auto-populates with the phrase Ask me a question. Once the Questions sticker is posted, followers can respond. Their responses are catalogued on a separate screen where you can click to share each one publicly with your response.

In the week since it launched, people have seen their Stories feeds dominated by questions. For the celebrities you might follow, it can be interesting. Some, like Andy Cohen or Busy Philipps, take time to host mini-AMAs while they’re bored or when they want to engage directly with fans.

But for many users, the feature has overrun their Stories feed with boring content and pointless answers. Users have become so frustrated by endless feeds of questions that some report they’ve blocked their own friends and family. The outrage about the spamminess of it has peaked on social media. “This ‘ask me a question’ thing might actually make me delete Instagram,” one user tweeted on Friday. “If you’re thinking about using the ask me a question feature on Instagram … don’t,” suggested one woman.

Also, unlike many question-based apps before it, the Instagram Questions feature is not anonymous—something many people have been forced to learn the hard way. “My friends and I myself were confused about this at first,” says Josephine, a 15-year-old in New York—one of several teens I interviewed to learn more about user behavior related to Questions (all of whom asked to be identified by their first name only).

But it isn’t the Questions feature itself that’s so bad; what’s most obnoxious is the way many people use it. Most people will pose the default Ask me a question to their audience of friends, who then reply with inside jokes, or generic questions like “How tall are you?” or “Why are you so cool lol?” The user will then post responses to these uninteresting questions in individual slides, encouraging you to tap through pages and pages of mediocre material.

Instagram isn’t the first platform to come up with a Q&A service. Earlier products such as ASKfm, Formspring, and MySpace Bulletin also allowed people to solicit questions from others, and all have shown that users tend to have a lot more fun answering questions about themselves than reading other people’s questions. But asking people to ask you questions can come across as uncreative and self-indulgent. Good conversation should be give and take, not passively sitting back and waiting for people to come up with creative ways for you to talk about yourself.

There’s one way to use the Questions feature that will save your audience from slides of spam, however. Instead of using the box to encourage followers to ask you a question, ask a question of your followers.

Changing the default Ask me a question text to pose a question to your followers allows you to collect different responses to a question of your own. This will prove to be a useful new tool on Instagram, as doing so was previously very hard.

Instagram has polls, but the responses to those are binary, which makes it hard to gather nuanced opinions or solicit feedback about several things at once. Answers via the Questions feature are also collected and tiled neatly on a separate page within Stories, not your direct messages, so it’s much easier to scan responses. Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t allow for private replies, but if you want to continue the conversation with someone you can always start a DM thread.

After testing this method recently on my own Story, I found it incredibly useful for receiving suggestions on everything from where to eat to which lamp to pick out for my living room. Others have also used the feature in this way to solicit advice, pep talks, or suggestions on what to do in certain parts of town from their followers. “I’ve asked ‘tell me something nice,’” says Eve Peyser, a staff writer at Vice and an avid Questions user.

Using Instagram Stories this way can be way more fun for both you and your followers. They’re able to experience the joy of giving their opinion, and you’re (theoretically) getting useful information, collected and organized neatly.

Still, if the urge to be self-indulgent is so powerful that you can’t resist begging for questions, there are a few ways to make the experience less annoying for your friends. Teens, having used question apps like Sarahah and Tbh extensively, have a keen sense for Questions etiquette and how to avoid the dreaded unfollow.

The first and most important rule is to answer multiple questions from your friends on a single page—as many as you can, actually. Rather than using Instagram’s default “share to answer” mechanism that allows for only one response per Story slide, screenshot the responses screen, upload it to your Story, and answer your questions that way. “Don’t spam your story. Your followers hate that,” says Ava, a 16-year-old in Philadelphia. “It’s spammy to answer the questions one at a time instead of grouping them all together.”

Anna, a 17-year-old in Montana, says that it’s also important to keep your responses to questions short in order to be respectful of your followers’ time. “You don’t want a full paragraph answer for every single question,” she says.

In the meantime, Questions haters can take solace in the fact that even the most avid Questions users will probably tire of the feature soon. Plus, people are coming up with new creative uses for it every day. The brand strategist Musa Tariq has been using it to ask followers what he can do to help them. And Miranda Feneberger, a writer and an astrologist, has been using it to do free readings and horoscopes for her followers. “It works well for me,” she says. “I’m giving a little taste of something I do for money away for free.”