This Documentary Film Exposes How People Cheat at Instagram

#followme is a new documentary film about Instagram released on Instagram. The 49-minute film aims to expose the “lawless economics of Instagram,” diving into the “shocking” world beneath the surface of a photo-sharing social network that’s home to 1 billion active users.

Created by the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO, the free-to-watch film was launched this week on Instagram TV but can also be watched as a vertical YouTube video above.

Photographer Sara Melotti wrote about the sneaky world of gaming Instagram back in 2017, covering everything from buying phony activity to joining collective “pods” to gain reach, and Melotti appears in this new documentary (at 28:57) to share what she learned from her experience in cheating at Instagram.

“[Instagram] became a number game,” Melotti says. “Numbers are gods today, meaning the number on your social media, the number of followers the number of likes, unfortunately determines whether you get work or not as a creative freelancer.”

A still frame of photographer Sara Melotti from the film.

“Online visibility seems more important than ever; the more likes and followers, the higher your social status,” says filmmaker and journalist Nicolaas Veul, who we follow in the film. “In the quickly developing industry of Instagram, the algorithms determine who will make it to the top. Along with this a completely new business model arose, with likes and followers as its currency.

“I wanted to understand this new, lawless economy. What is real and what is fake? How do you beat the algorithms? Who is actually profiting from this? And how does this influence the average Instagram user?”