In Praise of the Screenshot, an (Admittedly Sometimes Petty) Internet Behavior That Instagram Just Sanctioned

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03: A person poses with an iPhone displaying the Instagram logo on August 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Screenshot away.
Carl Court/Getty Images

Instagram has declared a free-for-all for creeping.

For a few months, the service was testing a feature that would tell users when their “Stories” on the platform were screenshot by another user. One of the key characteristics of Stories is that they disappear after 24 hours, so screenshotting them meant flouting the ingrained ephemerality of the feature. Of course, a lot of people were doing it anyway. The Story was supposed to be Instagram’s bid to get everyone to loosen up, to go against the performativeness and permanence of the rest of social media, but when did good intentions ever stop anyone? Now, blessedly and finally, Instagram has decided Story screenshots are completely fine.

For once, a social media platform has it right! Screenshotting should not be punishable behavior. In fact, screenshots are great, and a good one can be one of the few remaining honest-to-goodness pleasures in this forsaken world. As the Awl once asked, “Where would modern social media be without the screenshot?” We should say it more often: Screenshotting, in just about all of its forms, is one of the best inventions of the internet age.

How many times has a screenshot vastly improved the quality of your life? I’m mostly speaking in the context of explaining something technical to a parent, co-worker, or IT professional: Trying to put a computer issue into words is extremely cumbersome in comparison to the beautiful simplicity of a screenshot, which shows exactly what you’re seeing to a person who’s not in front of your screen. It’s like magic!

It’s true, however, that screenshots aren’t always, or even primarily, used for convenience. Screenshots are also the weapon of choice for all manner of internet shadiness. As the Awl article points out, that includes celebrity statements using the Notes app (the “iOS press release,” per podcast the Read’s terminology), tweets that have been deleted but you had enough forethought to save (gotcha, revisionist celebrity!), text threads that you want to import into other text threads for mocking purposes, and so on. The Instagram Story screenshot fits proudly into this petty tradition. If an influencer or a celebrity (or a friend!) is doing something weird and you want to capture it and do whatsoever your heart desires with it, now that is your Instagram-sanctioned right. With this move, the service is tacitly recognizing that ours is not an age of decorum and discretion. Rather, this is the receipt’s world; we’re just living in it. Press and hold those Power and Home buttons with abandon.