Instagram might already be surpassing TikTok.
Credit: Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

When Instagram introduces a new feature that closely mirrors another app, its users often anticipate negative outcomes.

In a 2022 article for Digital Trends, author Cristina Alexander criticized the “TikTok-ification of Instagram” because it “compromises the type of content users cherish the most about the platform: posts from friends and family, as well as content aligned with their interests.”

“And it’s something I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with,” Alexander expressed.

However, the pessimism tends to dissipate over time. Alexander joins the ranks of famous personalities like Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and numerous regular users — myself included — who initially resist when Instagram emulates another platform but eventually come to accept it.

Whether loved or loathed, Instagram’s strategy of emulating other platforms proves effective — its commitment to adopting features from rival apps contributes to its success in surpassing TikTok.

Think of Instagram as analogous to Kirby in Super Smash Bros. Inherently strong as a standalone entity, it leverages its Copy Ability by assimilating features from its competitors and using them against them. Instead of relying on its own strengths or enhancements, Kirby adopts those of its rivals as its own assets. Instagram — along with other apps owned by Meta — absorbs its competitors, integrates their features, and capitalizes on them for victory. This strategy was previously employed to outshine Snapchat as a major competitor, with TikTok now in its sights.

For the first time since 2020, Instagram outpaced TikTok in new app downloads in 2023, as per data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower reported by the Financial Times, making it the most downloaded app globally. In 2023, Instagram downloads surged by 20 percent compared to TikTok’s 4 percent.

This achievement follows Instagram’s launch of Reels, a feature reminiscent of TikTok that was initially met with criticism by its user base but has since cemented its place within the app. It’s plausible that the inclusion of Reels played a pivotal role in propelling the platform back to the top.

“Instagram has outperformed TikTok in adoption over the past few years, driven by the popularity of its Reels feature in addition to its traditional social media functionalities,” remarked Abraham Yousef, a senior insights manager at Sensor Tower, to the Financial Times.

While Instagram’s effective emulation strategy contributes to its success, TikTok finds itself besieged on various fronts.

President Joe Biden stated that if the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” is passed by Congress — a bill that would proscribe TikTok and all Chinese, North Korean, Russian, and Iranian-based apps from U.S. app stores — he would sanction it. Lawmakers argue that TikTok user data of U.S. citizens could potentially be accessed by the Chinese government, a claim steadfastly refuted by TikTok.

The push for legislation banning TikTok has led to multiple congressional hearings and, recently, TikTok urged its U.S. users to petition their representatives to “prevent a TikTok shutdown.” This action comes on the heels of reports two years ago that Meta remunerated a Republican consulting firm to sow doubt about TikTok.

Meanwhile, TikTok is progressively transitioning to a more commerce-oriented platform, losing some of its lightheartedness. With the advent of TikTok shop, it seems that a significant portion of the content on the For You Page consists of sponsored or promoted posts. The essence of TikTok is evolving, and not necessarily towards a favorable direction.

Even though the app is experiencing a decline in downloads and an uptick in user complaints, this doesn’t denote TikTok’s outright failure. It boasts higher user engagement than its competitors, with users spending an average of 95 minutes on TikTok compared to 62 minutes on Instagram, 30 minutes on X, and 19 minutes on Snapchat, according to the Financial Times.

The outcome of a potential TikTok ban remains to be seen, but one thing is clear — even if the app evades prohibition in the U.S., the battle for users is far from over.


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Christianna Silva
Senior Culture Reporter

Christianna Silva is a Senior Culture Reporter at Mashable. They write about tech and digital culture, with a focus on Facebook and Instagram. Before joining Mashable, they worked as an editor at NPR and MTV News, a reporter at Teen Vogue and VICE News, and as a stablehand at a mini-horse farm. You can follow them on Twitter @christianna_j.


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