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Jay Z, Solange, Beyoncé, and the rise of the celebrity Instagram diss

Instagram retaliation is the hot new social media diss... but it's better left to the famous. 


Molly McHugh


Posted on May 19, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 7:08 am CDT

Few among us can admit to being removed from the Knowles-Carter-Solange drama of this week. The leaked elevator fracas has become the very definition of a meltdown, and we’ve been unapologetically captivated by this seemingly idyllic family’s fall from grace.

The events that have transpired over the past week have taught us so much. To state the obvious: Jay Z did something that made Solange really angry. Secondly, Her Highness-Unicorn-Warrior-Princess Beyoncé is capable of acting totally pedestrian. That Instagram spree following the video leak in which she posted photos with Solange and Rihanna? That was like high school-level crisis management.

And thirdly, we’ve found it. This national crisis has revealed the new ultimate social media diss: The Instagram retaliation.

Following the leak of the video, Solange reportedly deleted Beyonce from her Instagram entirely. While this report turned out to be exaggerated, a photo from the night of the elevator fight was deleted. Only a few photos remained, though there may not have been a great many to begin with, but it’s entirely possible.

She also cryptically captioned a photo she posted of her and Beyoncé (and Sisqo… what?) saying she would be deleting it later.

It’s not the first time Solange has used Instagram to send a message. She once quite the app altogether because of cyberbullies. “One of the reasons I went off of Instagram—because I was on there for a little while—is because, you know, I would post pictures of my son or my friends, and they’d be criticized. My whole thing is that I’m completely, fully capable of handling negativity for myself. But to put that kind of access to negativity behind people who didn’t even ask for it was really troubling to me,” she said at the time.

Clearly, she rejoined, and as we’ve witnessed use the app to send subtle messages. Subtle messages, that really, take a fairly significant investment: To go through your feed and find photos you’ve taken with a specific person and delete them (or even some of them)? Hoo boy. Does Solange have some magical face-matching software that was able to quickly find and surface all Beyoncé photos, from which she picked the victims to the delete button?

I’m leaning toward no.

But she isn’t the only celebrity who’s gone through some considerable lengths to send a message via Instagram. Recently, following an alleged brouhaha with two members of the Kardashian clan, pop star Selena Gomez unfollowed them (and this was after spending a lot of time posting Instagrams with them). And then she unfollowed… everyone.

That takes some time! I looked: There is no way to mass-unfollow. You just hit up your feed, head to a profile, and do the deed.

I’m guessing there’s an assistant somewhere whose fingers are still bloody and raw.

But this tediousness is precisely why Instagram retaliation is of the celebrities. Instagram, though a beautiful, massive, and hugely successfully platform, is not built for large-scale function. You can only do a handful of things, and there are no sweeping settings or services anywhere. You want to make something private? It’s all private. You want to “like” a comment? You cannot.

Who else but someone with a superfluous amount of time, an assistant, and a heightened sense of self image is going to obsessively find a way to throw shade by rooting out specific photos, or purging followers one by one?

Celebrities have elevated the Instagram game. E! has partnered with the app to create a wall that pulls in their posts, essentially trying to regain some sort of marketability by repackaging and reselling us something we can already get for free. The paparazzi are in competition with the app as well, and famous types even have their own “Instagram assistants.”

Clearly Instagram is a celebrity’s app and we’re just posting to it. And it’s precisely because of its format that it’s such a perfect tool for the specials to send a message: Twitter is too literal; even their subtweets can be immediately obvious Facebook is too big, and you know that News Feed algorithm is going to keep a star’s angry post at the top for days. Instagram lets them be beautiful and snarky and (at least seemingly) subtle. It’s all action, no explanation. In a toaster filter.

A celebrity’s Instagram account is their perfectly sculpted presentation of normalcy. Each photo is taken and filtered just so to show a human being who is so very exquisite and nearly inhumane, but with just a touch of “ordinariness.” Enough to make them almost touchable. It’s a very valuable thing, to be immaculate yet relatable. It’s as close to real as someone like Selena Gomez or Beyoncé gets. And so it makes sense that this is also the place that a few strains of truth surface.

This wasn’t the first time a celebrity has used Instagram to throw shade, and it won’t be the last. But what about you and me? What recourse do we regular schlubs have?

We’re better off just Gchatting our roommates about our jerkbag brother-in-law. Here’s the thing: It’ll take an hour to delete any trace of him from Instagram, and a year before anyone else even realizes it. 


Photo via qmnonic (CC BY 2.0) | remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: May 19, 2014, 3:33 pm CDT