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What Instagram Looks Like When It’s Stuck in Limbo

A day spent staring at the same wood ducks and Jackie Chan memes, with no hope of refreshing.

In this photo illustration, a person looks at a smart phone with a Instagram logo displayed on the screen, on August 17, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Keeping trying to refresh, it won’t work. OLIVIER DOULIERY/Getty Images

Around 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Instagram went down as part of a larger, as-yet-unexplained outage of Facebook and its subsidiaries. Several hours later, with no resolution, I’ve found myself in a strange time-freeze. I feel conflicting emotions, glad that rampant misinformation is taking the day off, but perplexed at the content that has lived at the top of my feed the entire afternoon.

Every time I’ve opened Instagram today, I’ve seen the same thing: a normal layout with a few seconds of a spinning refresh wheel and then the same picture repeatedly displaying. I was confused by this photo that came to define my day. It’s from an account someone else told me to follow, and as best as I remember she’s a creepy baker-slash-artist. In the post she’s standing at the bottom of a staircase of a haunted-looking mansion with a bunch of self-satisfied cats. I do not generally seek out creepy content or Halloween content; the image is poignant not because it perfectly encapsulates my interests, but because I am randomly spending the day with it while Facebook employees pull out all their hair.

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What was it like when a big chunk of the internet stood still? To memorialize this historic dysfunction, I asked my colleagues to describe their own Instagram timelines—and tell me what photo got lodged at the top when it was no longer possible to hit refresh.

“A very close up headshot of a handsome male wood duck, posted by the Audubon society of course.”—Susan Matthews, news director

“Two Beverly Hills housewives—one awkwardly clutching the other a little too closely while they celebrate the bat mitzvah of the daughter of a third Beverly Hills housewife.” —Daniel Schroeder, producer of ICYMI

“A photo of Jackie Chan from a meme account.” —Heather Schwedel, staff writer

“A screenshot of an article about ‘2021 CMT Artists Of The Year Honoree: Kane Brown,’ who is not ‘afraid to take chances or try things [his] own way.’” Same!—Jonathan L. Fischer, technology editor

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“Some terrific looks from Schiaparelli’s RTW collection.” —Jared Hohlt, editor in chief

“Cardi B, looking amazing prancing around Paris Fashion Week last night in an all purple Richard Quinn jumpsuit and matching accessories. And the outfit is stunning, so I’m not mad!” —Julia Craven, staff writer

“Some pumpkins on some hay—spooky season basic” —Heidi Grothaus, vice president of people operations

A screenshot of the Instagram described in the introduction of this piece.
My companion for the day. Instagram
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“A beautiful still life of my poetess friend’s great-grandmother’s hand-painted teapot and cup next to a dahlia in a vase. Could be worse.” —Rebecca Onion, staff writer

“Marina Abramovic and Ulay facing each other naked in a door doing art.” —Lizzie O’Leary, host of What Next: TBD

“A series of screenshots from High Art, with Radha Mitchell and Ally Sheedy in bed together.” —Christina Cauterucci, senior staff writer

“A photo of [Slate senior editor] Shannon Palus’ dog Ada, wrapped up in a blanket, with the caption ‘I’m a cannoli.’” —Madeline Ducharme, assistant producer

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“A friend at a wedding. Boring.” —Jaime Green, Future Tense associate editor

“A meme in which one nerdy kid watches with chagrin as a buff, shirtless guy walks down the hallway with a hot girl in a crop top who is clearly enamored of the hot guy specifically because he’s been ‘canceled’—a fate the nerdy kid avoids by reading books on things like ‘feminism’ and ‘more gay shit’ but to no avail because the hot girl still picks the canceled guy every time instead.” —Allegra Frank, senior editor

“I don’t have anything!!! All blank! I feel so left out!” —Asha Saluja, managing producer

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