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I’ve recently noticed a trend reemerge among celebrities and influencers that I can’t stop thinking about: unfollowing everyone on Instagram.
Some refer to it as entering their Reputation era, a nod to Taylor Swift, who famously unfollowed everyone in 2017 and posted snakes on her feed to promote her post-cancellation album. Five years later, her following count still sits at zero. Other Gen Z celebs have also embraced the unfollow, such as Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo. Then this week, YouTuber and influencer Emma Chamberlain, who has over 14 million followers, purged her Insta account to follow no one.
It feels like a blue checkmark is no longer enough for celebrities to prove their social media power. Instead, it’s following zero people that elevates them to god level.
During an interview on Capital Breakfast, a UK radio show, Swift explained that wiping her profile clean and unfollowing people was in protest to how the media monitored her every move via social media.
“I’m starting to realize that if I didn’t wish one of my friends a happy birthday on Instagram, there would literally be articles saying like, ‘Unsquadded: She’s no longer friends with so-and-so!’ And I’d literally be at the person’s birthday party with them and because I hadn’t posted,” Swift said. “I kind of reject this idea that if you didn’t see it on the Internet it didn’t happen."
For Chamberlain, it might be a way for her to spend less time online — something she has been vocal about wanting to do. She’s already deleted her Twitter and TikTok accounts. Fans noticed and called it “queen behavior."
After a few days at zero, Chamberlain started following one Insta account: her own coffee brand.
The unfollow move makes sense for celebrities. With constant eyes on Rodrigo’s Instagram and when she would or wouldn’t unfollow her ex-boyfriend Joshua Bassett, unfollowing everyone probably eliminated a possible headline. There’s also the perceived power it gives these celebrities. No one is good enough for Beyoncé to follow; her count has been zero since day one. Even Oprah only follows three accounts for the companies she owns or does business with. Ed Sheeran follows his brand’s account and the restaurant he opened in 2019.
I reached out to Anna Russett, a YouTuber and product specialist at YouTube, who unfollowed everyone on Instagram in 2018 after realizing she was following too many people she didn’t know. Plus, as a vlogger with more than 88,000 subscribers, she knew some of her fans would follow everyone she was following, including her boss or her nonpublic friends.
“That was strange,” Russett told me. “Some people just want a way to be closer to your life in some way when you create content, and that was a couple of people’s ways of doing that.”
She still has a finsta, which she uses to follow some influencers she likes, but unfollowing everyone has given her more agency, she said. Instead of someone’s post popping up on her phone, she has to seek it out, meaning she spends less time on the app.
For Russett, Swift, and Rodrigo, using Instagram as a creator rather than as a consumer isn’t that wild of an idea. Social media is a way for them to sell themselves and their art. But on Facebook, where someone has to be your friend to see your posts, unfriending everyone is almost like disappearing.
Stephen, who declined to disclose his last name, told BuzzFeed News that after his grandmother died in October, he began to reevaluate whom he was sharing information with online.
“I started to have a frustration about sharing parts of my life with all the strangers I’ve collected throughout the course of my life but not being able to share it with a close family member who’s no longer around,” he said.
Stephen, who is 24, has been on Facebook for half of his life, which makes his skin crawl. So he deleted more than 1,000 Facebook friends, leaving only his brother and boyfriend. In a way, he was reinventing himself, but he realized there was a darker side to his actions.
“I was trying to erase myself, for lack of a better phrasing of it,” Stephen said. “It really felt like I was trying to kill myself off of it in a way.”
Unfriending everyone gave him some anxiety, so he slowly added close friends and family members back — but now that he has fewer Facebook friends, he’s on the website less.
Chamberlain seems to want the same. When she deleted her TikTok, she said on her podcast that it was a “life-changing experience.”
Maybe unfollowing everyone on Instagram is a way of forcing herself to use the app less, like how many people make a New Year’s resolution to cut down on their social media intake.
“It seemed like TikTok kept me entertained in bed to the point where I would stay in bed so much longer,” she said. “Within the first few days of deleting TikTok, I stopped laying in bed so much because I would get so bored. It forced me to get up, and I felt like I was doing more chores.”
Until there’s a way to mass unfollow people, it’s too much of a chore for me to unfollow more than 2,000 accounts. I would rather just keep scrolling.