Commentary: An Instagram Between Us

Instagram and WeChat are the most popular social media platforms in America and China, respectively. As an international student from China, WeChat is still my go-to source for gossip and interpersonal conversations. It’s certainly undeniable that Instagram has a lot of cool features that WeChat doesn’t have; automatically switchable filters, daily stories, and Boomerang videos are only a few among many. But behind the extravagant facade of Instagram, there is something core missing: the intimacy between users and their followers. American social media, like Instagram, would be better if it were to become more like WeChat by imitating some of its features to better promote the closeness that it offers its users and that I find to be so essential.

First, let me clarify what I mean: Instagram posts make people seem less intimate compared to WeChat posts because of the inherent differences in captioning conventions. It has almost become a trend on Instagram to concoct a perfect caption just to gain more likes and comments. Scrolling down my feed, I saw a collection of educative and fancy quotations, puns, and jargon that makes personality insignificant. In other words, a person might use a very trendy caption that doesn’t correspond with the way they usually talk.  Some followers may also comment “caption goals,” motivating people’s obsession with this string of text and forming a cycle. Additionally, people tend to avoid expressing negative emotions and only exhibit their “perfect” lifestyle on Instagram.

On the other hand, WeChat users tend to use captions written in the style of language they naturally use. For example, if a person usually sends messages with emojis instead of finding specific words to express himself or herself, they do not have to exhaust their mind to search for a creative caption — they can simply use an emoji as the caption. The number of likes and comments wouldn’t be affected by their caption at all, which is why they are willing to reveal to others what they actually want to say, even if it is a series of outrageous complaints.

In my case, each time I’m about to post on WeChat, I write down anything that corresponds with my emotions at that specific moment, just like recording my feelings in a digital diary. When it comes to Instagram, however, I have to ask my friend for help brainstorming the perfect, innovative caption that conceals my vulnerable thoughts and makes them presentable in front of the public. For example, when I simply wanted to caption my post “Spring has come,” a friend expressed disapproval by noting that this caption was not creative enough to garner many likes. Instead, she told me to write “Spring has sprung.” Surprisingly, her strategy worked like a charm.

Furthermore, on Instagram, it’s likely that one might follow some strangers. Unlike Instagram, there are no algorithms on WeChat that make suggestions for who one should follow; friend requests are sent and received in a way that you only add the people that you are close to. On Instagram, people usually follow strangers or people they hardly know just to get “follow backs.” This strange behavior is encouraged because the follower-to-following ratio is of great importance as the first thing anyone sees on an Instagram profile. Because the amount of friends one has is only disclosed to them, people on WeChat do not feel pressured to follow strangers.

The process of friending someone on WeChat is different: one writes messages to a person as reminders of their relationship with each other. Some examples I’ve seen include “I was in the same class with you in kindergarten,” and “ You remember me? We talked with each other at the reception last week.” After you accept, you can set a nickname for the person to help you better connect with them. You can even set someone as a series of heart emojis if that special someone is your secret crush. These are things American social media really needs right now.

People can build closer friendships if they have the courage to share their vulnerable sides with them and ask for help when it is needed. Instagram makes this harder to achieve because its structure speaks to people’s natural distrust towards (relative) strangers and fear of not keeping up with a trend. We’ve always considered social media apps helpful for us to connect with and have a more comprehensive understanding of other people. However, we really should take a second and reflect on whether Instagram is bringing people closer together or separating them from each other. By implementing features that make WeChat so successful, it is possible to change the culture of American social media.

Candy Xie is a two-year Lower from Shenzen, China. Contact the author at