Algorithmic feeds, how I loathe thee. I hate Twitter’s, minor as it is. I hate Facebook’s, because I just want a simple chronological News Feed. And I hate Instagram’s, because its Explore tab can fill up with all sorts of weird shit that the service thinks I should like. There’s not that much you can to do get a handle on the ever-unruly Explore, but you have a few options.
The problem with Instagram’s Explore tab
Before we begin, here’s how Instagram says it picks the photos and videos that appear when you tap on the app’s big magnifying glass on its bottom navigation bar:
“We’re always working to update the types of photos and videos you see in Search & Explore to better tailor it to you. Posts are selected automatically based on things like the people you follow or the posts you like. You may also see video channels, which can include posts from a mixture of hand-picked and automatically sourced accounts based on topics we think you’ll enjoy.”
Easy, right? Not so much. As you might have noticed during the time you’ve spent mindlessly gazing over the infinite feed of Explore content, things sometimes appear that you definitely don’t like:
“I follow musicians and some artists who draw with some outdoor stuff mixed in (camping, etc.). So why in the hell are there always dumb memes and videos of girls putting makeup on?” —earthcharlie, “Explore tab is nonsense!”
“My explore feed is always full of candy-making videos. There is nothing that I follow related to candy making. None of the people I follow are ‘candy making’ related.” —Rules2PlayBy, “My explore page is infested with candy making videos”
“Why am I getting all these ripped shirtless dudes?” —David Murphy, various
No, really. For a decent amount of time, my Instagram Explore feed was full of ripped, nearly naked dudes. They’d be posing by themselves. They’d be posing with other ripped, nearly naked dude friends. It was a gymstravaganza. And while I have been contemplating upping my fitness routine a bit, I mainly use Instagram to post pictures of my cat. Fitness has never been, nor will likely ever be, something I care about much on the service. Why the bro-nado, Instagram?
Tweaking a broken Explore tab
If you’re on the Explore tab and you hate what you’re looking at, there are a few things that you can do to adjust its content. Full disclosure: Your options are a little limited, and since the feed is driven by algorithms, your tweaks might take a little time to kick in.
- Maybe stop using Instagram quite so heavily
First, consider the obvious: Who are you following on Instagram and what are you liking? If you’re the kind of Instagram user who just follows any account that looks remotely interesting, and you double-tap your way through the Explore feed like a keyboard champion, you might have yourself to blame for a messy Explore feed. Tap on the head-and-shoulders icon in the lower-right corner of the app, tap on “Following,” and start cutting down to just the accounts you really care about.
Also, stop loving every photo. It’s OK to just silently acknowledge its existence to yourself instead of tap-tap-tapping.
- Consider what your followed friends are interested in
If you’re having a hard time cutting down to just the best-of-the-best accounts to follow, here’s a trick. Click on the heart icon at the bottom of Instagram’s app, and then tap “Following.” This lesser-known menu gives you a glimpse of what those you’re following are up to on the service, including what they’ve liked and who they’ve decided to follow. If all of your friends are liking the heck out of cats, but you’re a dog person, that might explain why it’s always a cat party on your Explore feed. (And if one’s preference for animals is enough to warrant an unfollow, that can also help you clean up your feed.)
- Ask the algorithm for adjustments
When you’re on the Explore tab and you see an image that doesn’t interest you at all, tap on it—trust me. Toward the bottom of the zoomed-in image, right below where the commends end, you’ll see the timestamp and a quick description of why Instagram decided to show you that particular image. This will give you a little insight, but not much, as to how you might be able to tweak your habits or followed accounts to avoid similar images in the future.
While you’re there, tap on the ellipsis icon above the image’s upper-right corner. This is how you share Explore images you like to your friends on Facebook and Facebook Messenger (or copy the link to paste it into a text message, for example). More importantly, you can tap “See Fewer Posts Like This” to tell Instagram to lay off whatever it is you hated.
It’s unclear just how effective this button is at actually modifying your feed, as some Instagram users have reported mixed results after doing nothing but tapping it for all the images they dislike. We wouldn’t spend a weekend using the option to try and polish our Instagram feed to perfection, but it’s useful when you’re killing some time on the Explore tab.
- Don’t forget to follow hashtags
Everyone knows that you can follow other accounts on Instagram. However, you might not know that you can also follow hashtags directly. So, if you’re really big into #videogames, #coffee, and #insomnia, use the search bar on the top of Explore to find and follow hashtags related to topics you care about. With luck, this will also have a trickle-down effect on the content that populates Explore.
- Don’t try to game the ‘gram
Refinery29’s Madeline Buxton shared a great story earlier this month that highlights why retraining Instagram’s algorithm can be tricky. A friend of hers had spent a lot of time on Instagram searching for different things to bake. Go figure, her Explore feed filled with images and videos of weed—a different kind of baking altogether. She attempted to fix up her feed the only way she could think of:
“…she spent weeks trying to game the algorithm, only clicking on photos and accounts that could not be related to pot in any way. It’s logical and proved successful, but was unnecessarily time and labor intensive. It was work that could have gone into baking a cake, instead.”