Call it #thefollowingtabisoverparty. Instagram announced this week that they’re killing the “Following” tab. Before I even had a chance to process the pain, the tab was … gone. Just like that. Another social-media feature that the next generation will never experience. They’ll have to suffer their own horrific moments, though. We’re all Facebook’s guinea pigs now.
If you are lucky enough to have never heard of the Following tab, here’s what it was: a feature that gave you the power to see what everyone you followed was up to online—who they were following, what they were liking, commenting on, etc. The Following tab let you see into the id of a friend. It was like sneaking a peek at their grocery cart. (Five boxes of Mallomars? Wow, someone’s eating their depression.) For those of you who never went on it, congratulations on having enough brains not to waste your life scrolling through an endless page of people doing nothing, all the while doing nothing yourself.
I have been an avid snooper since 2012, not necessarily by choice, more out of addiction. Ask me what kind of posts and people anyone I follow likes, and I could tell you. Unless I muted them, which I probably did, solely based on the things I saw they were liking. (If you were one of my Instagram friends who tagged someone in a @drpimplepopper post, now you know why I had to let you go.)
And even though the feature has been removed, I can’t help myself. Day after day, I still find myself clicking on the heart icon, believing it will open for me and allow me to fulfill what felt like my civic duty to log everyone’s misbehavior. My behavior is no surprise. They say denial is the first stage of grief.
Ask me what kind of posts and people anyone I follow likes, and I could tell you.
To be honest, I’m more in the second stage of grief: anger. Boy, am I angry. Do you know how many couples would still be together if the Following tab had never existed? I’ll never forget when I saw on the Following tab that my boyfriend at the time had liked five very intense ass pics.
“There’s no intentions with ‘likes,’” he said. “It’s just the online version of a dude saying, ‘Nice.’”
“Look at whatever you want!” I yelled back. “Just don’t fucking ‘like’ it!”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is I don’t want anyone else but me knowing you’re an asshole!”
(Thank you, Instagram, for these highly intellectual debates and memories I’ll never be able to un-live.)
They say that the third stage of grief is bargaining, so, Instagram, if you’re listening (and I know you are. Always), here’s my proposal: if you’re trying to get rid of something for the sake of our mental health, why not get rid of the “Read” receipts in our D.M.’s so we can actually read them? And on the receiving end, so we don’t want to die every time we’re left looking at a “Seen” with no reply?
Instagram, you were supposed to be the future! How do you expect us to spy on our friends and exes without the Following tab? What are we supposed to do now? Sit in the diner booth behind them, hiding our faces behind a menu, trying to eavesdrop? I don’t want to hack into someone’s e-mail—it’s not 2005! Please come back, I’ll do anything.
How do you expect us to spy on our friends and exes without the Following tab?
Sometimes I feel the fourth stage of grief creeping in, and it goes deep. There are so many experiences I’ll never have again. Like: I’ll never know from just going online who is hooking up with whom. (Venmo is the closest thing we have to that now, but it can only be used as a process of elimination. Like, obviously they’re not hooking up, they split dinner … ) I’ll never again witness the moment when exes re-follow each other. The sensation of seeing ____ followed ____ and vice versa, one right after the other, knowing these two definitely agreed over text five minutes prior that they were stable enough for a re-follow. How will I go on without that joy? Even worse: I won’t know when someone is ignoring my texts. Oftentimes my only proof that someone wasn’t dead was seeing that they liked four photos.
Throughout my single-dom, the Following tab was my constant friend. Always there for me. It helped me weed out the creeps with all of the information I would ever need to know. (Even though I think the creepiest of all dudes are the ones who try to do everything they can on Instagram to show they aren’t creepy.) With the Following tab’s help, I calculated that the least creepy single guys on Instagram have behaviors that land somewhere in the middle. Sure, they’ll like a bikini photo once in a while—but it’ll be a tasteful one of someone they know. Not one from somebody with a username like @divamoneysex or something. (She’s not real, FYI. Don’t look her up and like her photos.)
Even worse: I won’t know when someone is ignoring my texts.
The tab was all that remained in this world that kept us civilized and with a sense of shame. Freed from the ever looming judgment of our friends, we’re now left to do … whatever we want. It’s like The Purge; you can live without consequence. Who knows what abhorrent behavior we will now embrace? Imagine how many comments you’ll like on your own photos calling you pretty, without the shame of people being able to see that you liked a bunch of comments saying you look pretty.
(I haven’t gotten to acceptance yet. It’s only been a week; I’m not a robot.)
I’ll only forgive Instagram for putting us through this emotional havoc if they really start to escalate things from here. If we’re lucky, they’ll keep taking features away, but slowly, so by the time it’s over we won’t realize what we’ve lost. After the Following tab, it will be likes, then comments, then the face-filter function they copied from Snapchat, until, finally, all our photos will be gone. But, knowing them, they’ll probably just leave us with an app that only listens to our conversations and tracks our data. A feed of targeted advertisements, like for the personal shopper you never asked for suggesting different ways to subscribe to toilet-paper delivery or quirky jewelry that will make your earlobes black.
Or maybe it’s all a ploy to make Facebook popular again, Zuckerberg’s one true love. It was hard to kill Instagram, one of his darlings, but he has to do what’s necessary for his favorite child.
There won’t be many people at the Following tab’s funeral. The tab was a polarizing figure. I will miss it regardless of its flaws, and will do what I can to keep its memory alive by sharing stories of the chaos it once caused. I don’t know what will happen without it. I’ve been told it’s always darkest before the dawn, so maybe something good will bloom in its absence. Perhaps living in a virtual world that’s a tad more … normal? Maybe we’ll even be, I don’t know, happy? The good news is, I’ll never be able to see what any of you are doing again, so be free, my disciples.
Cazzie David is an Editor at Large for Air Mail and is based in Los Angeles