What We Lose When We Lose Instagram’s Activity Feed

Information (on public figures’ weird Instagram habits) wants to be free.

A screenshot from the Instagram activity feed

Close observers of Instagram’s activity feed (yes, hello) received some devastating news this afternoon: Sometime later this week, the “Following” tab in Instagram’s activity feed is going to disappear from phones everywhere, forever.

For those previously unaware of the tab’s existence (which is, admittedly, most users, and is part of the reason Instagram seems to be getting rid of it in the first place), clicking the heart icon at the bottom of the app would bring you to an activity feed, where you could then click the word Following to see a stream of activity from everyone you follow. It might show you what comments people were leaving, who had begun following which accounts, and upon which photos people had bestowed an ever-coveted heart.

Because so few people were aware that this page existed in the first place, the view it gave felt less artificial than the rest of the app, free of whatever performances people put on for their more front-facing Instagram activity. Or, especially for grown men who kept liking teen bikini pics, it provided a glimpse of what they mistakenly thought was private activity. For this reason, the move to get rid of the feed was championed by BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos as a victory for horny Instagram users everywhere. While this may be true, the horny photo-faver’s gain is a loss not only for gossipmongers but, perhaps, for democracy itself.

More than just telling us which of our friends loved butts, the Following activity feed offered a rare insight into the inner lives of some of our most guarded public figures:

Mark Zuckerberg faves of a photo of Pete Buttigieg posted by his husband

Or what public figures were doing during their off time, be it accidentally or because they simply thought no one was looking:

A collection of activity from Instagram's Following feed

Like these, from forum enthusiast and embattled California congressman Duncan Hunter, whom I was lucky enough to follow before he made his Instagram private:

Duncan Hunter favs a number of bodybuilding images

It told when our elected officials were finding new allies:

Lindsey Graham and Dan Crenshaw both follow each other at the same time on Instagram.

And who was catching the interest of whom:

Dan Crenshaw, Betsy DeVos, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders follow David Portnoy, the Trump women, and Hailey and Justin Bieber, respectively.

Or when Ivanka was catching the interest of Ivanka:

Ivanka faves photos from a series of Ivanka fan accounts.
Ivanka liking photos from Ivanka fan accounts

And when Don Jr.’s beau, Kim Guilfoyle, was similarly interested:

Kim Guilfoyle faves photos from various Ivanka fan accounts

It even showed us, uh, these:

Kim Guilfoyle faves a series of comments comparing her to Melania.
Kim Guilfoyle faves a series of comments referring to her as a future first lady.

But thanks to the activity feed, we also knew that Kim wasn’t alone in her appreciation of the #BeBest queen:

Sebastian Gorka faves a photo from a Melania Trump fan account.

It showed us when Don Jr. opined on what it means to be a modern man:

Don Jr. responds to a comment about being a man.

And when Sarah Huckabee Sanders started showing an interest in local politics amid rumors that she might be considering running for governor:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders follows official Arkansas GOP accounts

It even let us know when Chris Cuomo was showing support for his favorite news anchor, Chris Cuomo:

Chris Cuomo faves comments praising Chris Cuomo.

Perhaps most distressing of all, if not for the activity feed, we might never have known how much former congressman Jason Chaffetz loves photographs of wild horses on Instagram.

While this knowledge was distressing at the time it was uncovered, the most important information usually is.

In this age of information warfare, any loss of transparency—especially where our politicians and public figures are concerned—is something to mourn. I do not begrudge the incurably horny their right to follow their passions in private, but we must ask ourselves: at what cost?