Instagram Is Building Its Own 'For You' Page

Lawmakers finally cracked down on TikTok, and what two skirts say about garment supply chains.

They Really Did It This Time

After nearly four years of trying, US lawmakers finally passed a bill last week that could eventually result in a nationwide ban on TikTok. The legislation is a mess, will be challenged in the courts, and fails to actually address the privacy and security concerns that have been raised about TikTok. If you want a comprehensive breakdown, Charlie Warzel has a great essay about the bill over in The Atlantic.

Part of the reason it passed is that TikTok “never figured out Washington,” and CEO Shou Zi Chew repeatedly missed opportunities to build relationships on Capitol Hill, reports The Wall Street Journal. Former and current TikTok employees told the Financial Times that the company has only become closer to ByteDance in recent years, even as the US government grew increasingly concerned about its relationship to its Chinese parent.

But as WIRED’s Makena Kelly noted, President Biden’s campaign is still posting on TikTok. His team uploaded a video attacking Trump yesterday, and many users in the comments questioned Biden for his seemingly hypocritical stance on the platform. “Why are you using TikTok if you want it banned?” one user asked. Seems like a fair question!

Illustration / Alexander Shatov / Unsplash

In a new story for WIRED, I tried to make a fairly straightforward point about TikTok: It has completely transformed since then-President Trump first tried to ban it back in 2020. TikTok’s user base and the ecosystem of creators making a living from the platform have grown and matured, and the consequences of banning it have therefore changed as well.

33% of American adults now say they have ever used TikTok, up from 21% in 2021, according to Pew Research Center. And more of them are turning to the app for news: In 2020, just 3% of Americans said they regularly got their news on TikTok, compared to 14% in 2023, according to Pew. If you look at people aged 18-29, that figure jumps to 32%. What would happen if the platform where one-third of young people in the US say they learn about current events were to disappear overnight?

US TikTok users have also gotten much older. On Capitol Hill, the app is still associated with dancing teenagers, but Americans in their 30s and 40s are now more likely to report posting videos to TikTok compared to users in their 20s, Pew found. Millennials are flocking to the app in droves—39% of US adults aged 30-49 now report ever having used it, up from just 22% three years ago.

The types of creators on TikTok have changed as well. The platform’s main strength has always been how it allows “normal” people to quickly and easily build an audience. Once they do, creators can make money through traditional brand deals, but also by reviewing items for sale on TikTok Shop, making user-generated ads for companies, and participating in other monetization schemes run by the app. All of this is possible even if you have only, say, 10,000 followers.

That ecosystem can’t be easily replicated on other platforms, experts told me. James Nord, founder of the influencer marketing platform Fohr, argued that TikTok disappearing would be an “extinction-level event” for many creators. “Most of them do not have sustainable followings on other platforms,” he said. “And they're not going to be able to migrate their following to Instagram.”

But Instagram is still going to try its best to lure TikTok creators, regardless of how different the two apps may be. Today, Instagram announced that it was tweaking its recommendation algorithm to give more priority to smaller creators on Reels, its vertical video feature that competes directly with TikTok.

It sounds like Instagram is basically building a ripoff of TikTok’s For You page, and it’s only going to promote content on it that was created specifically for Reels—videos with the TikTok watermark on them are ineligible. Here’s how instagram described it in a blog post

We have been working on a new way to rank recommendations to give all creators an equal chance of breaking through. Through this process, every piece of eligible content (e.g., content that is original, does not violate our community guidelines, has no visible watermarks and satisfies our recommendation guidelines) is shown to a small audience that we think will enjoy it, regardless of whether they follow the account that posted it or not. As this audience engages with the content, the top performing set of reels are shown to a slightly wider audience, then the best of these are shown to an even wider group, and so on. We’ll roll this out over the coming months.

One Skirt, Two Labels

I was scrolling through eBay recently when I came across two listings that provide a great illustration of how garment supply chains really work. Both of them were for the exact same faux suede black skirt with flowers embroidered on the front, but they had two different brand tags. One was Zara, and the other was for a brand called “Dex.”

Some of you may recall that I wrote about a similar situation a few weeks ago, in which a girl found a SHEIN tag on a $180 outfit she had bought from a brand called Jaded London. Like in that case, what likely happened here is that both Zara and Dex got the skirt from the same wholesale manufacturer in China.

Illustration / eBay

Another possibility is that the skirt was an original design by Zara, and Dex was able to buy up the remaining stock from one of its manufacturers at the end of the season. It’s hard to know exactly, but it’s clear that Dex is a much smaller brand that Zara, so it’s unlikely that Zara started selling Dex’s design rather than the other way around. On its website, Dex describes itself as having “a passion for delivering trendy, quality clothing options for ladies at an affordable price.”

Anyway, I thought the skirts were a neat thing to stumble upon. I buy a lot of stuff on eBay, and find it to be a valuable resource for tracking how the secondhand fashion market is evolving.

  • Deep-discount wonders: How aware are US shoppers of retail brand Temu? (YouGov) A new survey finds that nearly nine in 10 Americans have heard of Temu, and women are significantly more likely to be familiar with the e-commerce platform than men. Most people who said they have heard of the app found out about it from an advertisement. But Temu’s massive marketing campaign isn’t necessarily translating into sales: Nearly three in five (56%) Americans who have heard of Temu have never bought anything from it, according to a YouGov survey of 700 adults last month.

  • Why China Is So Bad at Disinformation (WIRED) Since at least 2017, a massive and expensive disinformation campaign linked to the Chinese government called Spamouflage has been “ceaselessly spewing out content designed to disrupt major global events, including topics as diverse as the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the US presidential elections, and Israel and Gaza,” WIRED reports. But the effort hasn’t been very effective: In most cases, almost nobody is looking at the posts, except researchers who track these kinds of things. They theorized one reason the campaign has fallen flat is that the Chinese government often lacks the cultural knowledge to spread convincing narratives in other countries.

  • TikTok’s Chinese Counterpart, Douyin, Is Courting American Designers (Business of Fashion) Douyin wants American fashion brands to start selling to Chinese consumers through its app. The New York-based clothing label Bad Binch TongTong already generates most of its sales from social media, so it decided to choose Douyin for its Chinese digital storefront over e-commerce giants like JD and Alibaba, the brand told Business of Fashion. At an information session in New York last month, Douyin made its pitch for other Western brands to sign up, promising that it can help them find “solutions for the logistical challenges of selling in China.”

  • Is Tesla China’s “Catfish”? (Interconnected) There’s a narrative going around right now about how the Chinese government supposedly plotted to steal Tesla’s technology by luring the company to open a major factory in Shanghai in 2019. For some reason, people are using the word “catfish” to describe this scenario, which they say explains why Chinese EV makers like BYD are so successful. Kevin Xu writes that the facts do not support this theory, and argues the narrative “risks generating the wrong conclusion and obscuring what the US, and increasingly the EU, ought to do to keep up with China in areas where China leads.” (Glenn Luk also wrote a really good thread on this topic recently.)

  • A New Generational Divide Opens Over Cheap Stuff on Temu (Wall Street Journal) Temu is particularly popular among older Americans—its fastest-growing consumer segment is people between the ages of 55 and 64. Younger people are now roasting their parents for becoming “Temu victims,” who can’t resist the shopping app’s plethora of cheap deals, reports The Wall Street Journal. What isn’t mentioned is how Temu’s parent company, PDD, previously went after the same older demographic in China. My favorite editorial photograph of all time is this 2018 New York Times picture of a 45-year-old man in the city of Foshan surrounded by all the things he bought on PDD, including an inflatable raft, a pink keyboard, and a mini motorized toy car for his daughter to ride around in.