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But the disorganized, sometimes scammy way some meme pages do business, coupled with the fact that the main account holder is often obscured, makes dealing with them a unique challenge for Instagram. On the one hand, the platform relies on large pages and meme accounts for growth. On the other, it has a responsibility to protect its users from spam. Networks such as Twitter and Tumblr have previously taken an approach similar to Instagram’s Christmas campaign: mass-banning anyone remotely affiliated with terms-of-service violations.
The unfortunate consequence of this type of approach is not just that some innocent account holders unjustly lose their primary source of income, but also that an entire class of accounts that generate massive engagement are ignored and deprioritized. Since Vine’s public fall, platforms have begun to recognize how critical influencers are to their networks. YouTube has had a robust creator-relations team. Snapchat was forced to recognize the power of influencers after initially dismissing them. And Instagram has made a heavy push in the influencer space, courting big social-media stars at events such as VidCon and BeautyCon. Yet meme accounts, some of which have larger and more engaged followings than certain traditional social-media stars, remain largely ignored.
The Christmas meme purge has only exacerbated the relationship between Instagram and these types of accounts. One group of memers who are adamant that they never engaged in any type of banned behavior plans to press the company to establish a representative to field requests from the most successful creators. The move wouldn’t be unprecedented. Instagram and Facebook have a large internal team that deals with requests from publishers; if anything, pages such as @SocietyFeelings or @Jaw have more in common with some modern media companies and influencers than with average users. BuzzFeed, for instance, has scaled its main Instagram account to more than 4.4 million followers by posting memes and screenshots of tweets.
“We are our own BuzzFeed,” said Declan Mortimer, a 16-year-old who ran the @ComedySlam account, with more than 11 million followers. Kaamil Lakhani and Jonathan Foley, who work together on @SocietyFeelings, said they were even in the process of building a dedicated website, as accounts such as @Daquan have already done.
“It seems like Insta values celebrities more than anyone else,” said Mitchell Burke, a 17-year-old who lost several pages in the purge. “If you’re a content account, you’re treated as an average user. You could have 10 times the following as these celebs and still get treated like an average person.”
Swish Goswami, a 21-year-old entrepreneur, lost @Swish, a basketball-themed news and meme account, and @JumpMan, a sneaker-themed account. He said that at the very least, Instagram should offer support for pages with more than 1 million followers and offer a dedicated person to “look at captions, tell us how to license content properly, how to credit it, how to manage copyright. Questions like these are not ones people should have with bigger pages.”
Despite the Christmas setback, most meme account holders mentioned in this article said that they weren’t planning to abandon the platform anytime soon. But the incident served as an acute reminder of how quickly they can lose it all and be forced to start from scratch. “We’re playing on rented property,” said Goswami, “and that’s just so apparent now more than ever before.”