Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Why are so many Instagram meme accounts private?

Is it because they're stealing other people's content, or worried about other people stealing theirs?

What do they meme? The purpose of meme-filled Instagram accounts is to go viral and gain followers, so why are many of them private? 
What do they meme? The purpose of meme-filled Instagram accounts is to go viral and gain followers, so why are many of them private? 

We've all been through it: a friend sends you an Instagram direct message (DM) with 20 laughing emojis declaring the post they're sharing to be riotously funny.

You click on said post, only to find the account that shared it is private. You request to follow, five days later get accepted, and then find the meme underwhelming at best.

This whole interaction irks you more than it should, at which point you remind yourself you need to use your mindful meditation app more (welcome to the new circle of life).

But why are they private?

Why would an account such as 'Epic Funny Page' (an original name) be private? It has 16.8 million followers, and surely the whole point of their operation is 'the more the merrier'?

Well, there are various theories as to why meme accounts, which are all about creating viral content, would put up barriers to their, ahem, content's virality.

Each theory listed below is probably at least partly true.

1. They want to get more followers

This is the most widely discussed option. Basically, if these accounts are private, you are forced to follow them to see the post your friend sent you.

If you have a public meme account, people will just look at your post, potentially chuckle, and then move on. If you're private, you gain followers from those DMs. Reid Hailey from the company Doing Things, which manages Instagram pages, told The Atlantic that accounts he manages used to gain 10,000 followers a week when public, but then saw that figure jump to 100,000 a week when they switched to private.

People are then also likely to forget to unfollow (unless the content is particularly grating). Unfollowing a public account takes just one click, while unfollowing a private account means you get an extra pop up to make double sure you want to do so. It's a small detail, but the small details count.

2. They don't want others to steal their content

Perhaps the move to make an account private is a protective one? It's a chance for meme accounts to actively control who can see their content the minute it goes up. The point of memes is that they get stolen, and they evolve as they are shared and tampered with. Perhaps the accounts just want the chance to delay the stealing.

This would explain why it sometimes takes an account multiple days to accept requests. They may not be blanket saying yes to everyone, they may actually be scanning to make sure other up-and-coming meme accounts aren't requesting a follow so that they can lurk and observe.

3. They don't want others to see that they steal content

The question of who owns an image in the era of Instagram is very murky territory. Remember, those people pulling funny faces that make you laugh are normally just everyday people, who may not delight at an unflattering photo of themselves exploding across the world wide web.

Also, the owner of the meme account who is profiting via stealth sponsored content is almost always not the person who took, or owns, the photo. Perhaps by going private they hope to only be visible to a legion of meme fans who are less worried about image rights and more invested in LOLs.

But the Oxford dictionary does define a meme as "an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations". So by going private, these meme accounts are potentially blocking their dictionary definition.

Remember though even if they are private, you can still always just screenshot the thing and WhatsApp it to your friends/mum/colleague/book club.

Updated: September 24, 2019 01:33 PM

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