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Between Instagram and porn: why your Close Friends’ profiles may not be suitable for all audiences

The option offered by the social media platform – in which only select followers can see a story – is a way for many users to share risque material and controversial opinions

Instagram Close Friends Porn
The green circle on an Instagram “story” indicates that it’s only visible to the friends and contacts that the profile owner has chosen.Collage: Pepa Ortiz

When Instagram launched the “Close Friends” feature in 2018 – a list in which to include contacts with whom to share content privately, through stories or reels – the biggest concern for users was that they would be excluded by someone close to them, thus awakening the condition of FOMO (fear of missing out).

The content intended for Close Friends is distinguished from general content with a green ring, which appears around a user’s profile picture. “Instagram Stories became the ideal place to express yourself and share everyday moments… but our community also grew and, sometimes, the things you want to share aren’t right for everyone. With the Close Friends function, you will have the opportunity to share more intimate moments with the group of people you choose,” the social media platform assured its users. However, back then, the company’s managers may have not suspected that the term “intimate moments” was capable of containing many other things.

In a TikTok video, a user described how she was shocked to discover that many people use this method to flirt: “Until recently, I thought that Close Friends on Instagram was meant for people you’d invite to your birthday… but it turns out that it’s meant for people you’d hook up with!”

“The night I found out, I went with my friend to a concert and she told me we should take a selfie for Close Friends. I thought ‘What’s wrong, you don’t want me on your Stories?’ But immediately, when she uploaded the photo, she received six messages from guys who wanted to hook up with her.”

While this surprise may seem naïve, the truth is that, while some users may want to upload photos that are more similar to an OnlyFans profile, there are also those who want to brag about eating avocado toast on a Sunday morning. There are even surveys being uploaded to Instagram Stories to find out who wants – and who doesn’t want – to see certain content.

“Everyone should have enough common sense to know what they can and cannot send on a platform. But since this isn’t the case, perhaps it’s necessary to put in more restrictions,” opines Silvia Rúbies, head of communications at Gleeden – a website meant for extramarital encounters, created by women. “In the end, those of us behind the platforms want people to enjoy them. If this misuse of applications or platforms becomes normalized – if they’re used to annoy people with risqué photos, when they’re not trying to flirt on platforms that aren’t meant for that purpose – it’ll be necessary to introduce restrictions, so that people have a better, more pleasant experience,” she says, referring specifically to exposure to unwanted images.

Others have a different opinion. “This type of content doesn’t bother me. I find myself on more and more Close Friends lists that have these types of photos. When someone creates a survey to find out if those of us [on the list] want to have access, I always say yes,” confesses Alfonso S. – a 39-year-old computer scientist – in an email interview with EL PAÍS. He attaches a screenshot of one of those surveys, in which you give your consent to access this type of material.

Fátima Martínez López – the author of Influencer Marketing: Practical course for agencies, influencers and brands – explains: “Of course, if you’re going to upload this type of content, the ideal thing would be to ask permission from those you include in the list. In fact, it would have to be voluntary to be party to such content, like with broadcast channels.” She also adds that, “as people are getting rich on OnlyFans, Instagram is becoming OnlyFans.”

An article in The Atlantic last year praised Close Friends, highlighting that – beyond privacy – the feature sometimes offers a deeper reward, by providing users with the option to be heard and feel validated in a safe space. There are influencers, in fact, who use this mode to give their opinions according to their political inclinations, because they fear that their positions and beliefs could affect them in terms of advertisers. Others opt for this method to provide libidinous content for a monthly fee. “Instagram subscriptions can be easily converted into OnlyFans,” Martínez López affirms. “People also use it for professional reasons, but there are those who use it in a very similar way to said platform.”

Privacy… with limits

It’s necessary to know that, in reality, the content collected in these ephemeral stories – which only last for 24 hours – isn’t as private as it may seem. This was made clear to Mashable by Stephanie Otway, the spokesperson for Meta (the company that owns Instagram): “We rely on proactive technology and community reporting to find and remove content that contains nudity.” She explained that the application has proactively discovered 94.3% of the nude material on Instagram before users let the platform know, as they have technology that detects it… even within the Close Friends function.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, if someone reports the content you have uploaded, the social media platform can delete the photograph. “From now on, content that may contain adult nudity and sexual themes will appear lower in the feed and in stories,” Instagram warned, on August 23, 2022. That is, before possible censorship, the platform preventively places this type of content in a less-visible place.

The next time you’re scrolling through stories – and you see that you’re approaching a green circle – be careful: perhaps the content isn’t suitable for all audiences.

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