What Instagram's meme account purge means for adland

Countless profiles were taken down overnight in a move that will cost creators millions.

More than 30 of the most popular meme accounts on Instagram. Pages with a combined total of +40 million followers. And hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in revenue lost for page owners.

Instagram’s massive meme-account purge has sent creators, influencers and marketers into a spin over the last few days.

Accounts were deleted without warning and little explanation. "Your account has been deleted for not following our terms. You won’t be able to log into this account and no one else will be able to see it." Savage.

Policy violation on social platforms is obviously a hot button subject. Instagram and parent company Facebook have taken well-publicized steps as part of attempts to safeguard user privacy and security. But this wave of meme account deletions represents an unprecedented step against creators and specifically content syndication.

Unsurprisingly, the news has been met with outrage from meme account page owners, many of whom have built up significant communities over time, in partnership with brands, and now generate huge revenue and indeed their livelihoods from their pages.

Instagram hasn’t yet detailed the reasons behind the violations but rumors hint at a worrying new trend behind some of these popular meme accounts and the relatively unregulated nature of this booming industry.

Speculation hints at these pages fraudulently obtaining, selling and purchasing usernames, freebooting -- stealing and reposting memes without the original creator's consent -- as well as posting objectionable content, undisclosed influencer deals.

The takeaway is a stark reminder to all creators that content on Instagram needs to be original and fall within Instagram's guidelines -- and in that sense this could be argued to be a commendable step in enforcing the importance of content ownership and consent.

However, it’s also hard to ignore the fact the purge has come as Facebook and Instagram continue to seek ways to steal a slice of the billion dollar influencer and content creator industry which to date has evolved largely on their platforms and yet out of their reach.

Perhaps this signals the start of something new. We know Facebook has long been searching for revenue sources beyond advertising and in shutting down these meme creators it opens the door to closer partnerships between platform and creator; subscription models of packaged up influencer and meme creator content for communities, or paywalled access to specific in-demand content. Perhaps we’re closer than we think.

Benjamin Arnold is We Are Social's US Managing Director.

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