I want to use the case of Instagram to highlight a larger point about how we can be mindful of which links we share on the Internet. Whether you’re a writer, a creator or simply sharing things on socials, a “bad link” can affect your readers as well as the health of the open Web.
What do I mean when I say a link is bad?
A friend of mine recently linked to one of her Instagram videos in her blog post. But after a discussion, she has now swapped it for a YouTube one, which is better for several reasons.
- People who don't have Instagram accounts can’t watch your video without being pushed to sign up, whereas YouTube videos play fine without signing in.
- Unlike Instagram embeds, YouTube embeds work on nearly every blogging and web platform. This means instead of having to visit a link, readers can play your video without leaving the website.
- YouTube videos are higher quality than Instagram ones.
- YouTube allows you to unlist a video from your channel. This is useful if you want the video embed or link in your blog post to work but don't want the video to show for people browsing your YouTube channel.
Strictly speaking, YouTube isn’t much of an open platform either but it’s certainly better than Instagram. However, if you feel strongly against YouTube’s closed characteristics, feel free use any similarly functional alternative such as Vimeo.
Instagram threatens the open Web
Instagram’s anti-open-Web stance doesn’t stop with external link baits. The platform infamously doesn’t support links in post descriptions, one of its many ways to keep people on the platform. A common defense I’ve heard against this is Instagram’s “Link in Bio” and “Link sticker in stories” features.
“Link in Bio” is not even a partial solution to the problem. It’s a single link that is relevant only to one post at a time. Besides, very few people bother to leave their timeline or story view to actually visit a profile and consume the link in bio. It’s simply too many steps. That’s exactly what Instagram wants.
The “Link sticker” is only available in stories, which disappear after 24 hours. Unless you manually archive them as a Highlight story for every single link. More importantly, Instagram is gatekeeping even here by not allowing certain links to be shared. For example, Instagram blocks some competitor links such as those of Telegram channels.
It’s not only cowardly for Instagram to practically not allow links on their platform but is also against the very fundamental structure of the Web. If Instagram doesn’t support links, let’s not support Instagram and enable more people to be sheep in their fence.
What to link to and what not to
While Instagram is one of the worst offenders of the open Web, there are many other platforms that also make it harder, if not impossible, for people to consume content without signing in. Here are a few more examples of “bad link” sites and better alternatives you can use instead when sharing something.
- Twitter threads of news, blogs posts or any such updates are bad links. Directly share the original article or blog post instead and discourage Twitter’s push to have you sign in just to view a tweet without large, persistent banners.
- Paid and institution-only research papers are bad links too. You can use tools like the Open Access Helper browser extension to find any legal, open versions of research papers and link to that instead.
- LinkedIn doesn’t allow people to view a profile without an account. Share the person’s work directly instead, or other Web profiles such as a university listing or their website.
By not thinking about what links we share, we enable platforms like Instagram to monopolize parts of the Internet. If a piece of content is available elsewhere, and it usually is, at the very least try linking to a version that doesn’t make people sign in just to view the content. The best way to check if a link is good is to open it in a private browsing tab and see if everything works, or to what extent.
Let’s be good citizens of the wonderful thing that is the Internet and keep it healthy. 🌐