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You use hashtags on Instagram to help make your posts more discoverable. Most of the time, however, it seems like it only makes them more noticeable to bots. A glance through any halfway popular post in the app and you’ll see a host of automated-looking responses—typically emoji-filled comments from random, unrelated accounts. While this brand of automation has always been against Instagram’s terms of service, the app is finally cracking down on these Instagram bots.
Over the past two months, Instagram has shuttered services such as Instagress, Instaplus, and Peer Boost, the New York Times reports. These bots help Instagram influencers and businesses gain more followers and recognition on the social network. Especially now that Instagram doesn’t display posts in chronological order, marketers have to get creative to ensure their posts get fresh eyes. These tools have been a popular alternative to manually liking and commenting on the app.
Once you sign up and pay for one of these programs, it will put your Instagram account to work, liking and commenting on photos 24/7. The service will only like photos that use the hashtag you’ve specified. Then, it will only comment with one of a predetermined pool of comments you’ve specified. While the activity stays under Instagram’s spam threshold, it still technically violates the app’s legal terms and community guidelines. The latter specifically asks users to “foster meaningful and genuine interactions” by not collecting “likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content.”
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Instagress was one of the first (and biggest) to close its doors at Instagram’s behest, back in April. It’s only the latest chapter in the app’s ever-evolving battle against spam, which began back in 2014.
For those that still want to automate their Instagram liking and commenting, you have options. Some are legal—that is, they use real humans to like and comment on your behalf—while others continue to use bots. As long as the idea that “good” Instagram accounts have lots of followers, these types of services will soldier on in one form or another.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.