Instagram is reportedly testing a feature that lets college or university students join special groups designated just for their schools.
CNBC, which first reported the news, says that it’s an opt-in feature, which allows users who go to the same school to view each other’s public Stories and send direct messages. The platform verifies whether a student goes to a given school using information publicly shared by the user, and their Instagram connections—although a CNBC reporter was able to sign up for their school’s network, despite having graduated. It’s not clear where the feature is being tested. Instagram was not immediately available for comment.
The move by Instagram recalls the roots of its parent company, Facebook, which started at Harvard, and was first limited only to universities (which, in the beginning, alienated lower-income youth). It also points to Facebook’s bet on groups, interest-based networks that the company hopes will continue driving engagement on its platforms. In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg said he hopes the company connects a billion people in “meaningful groups,” as part of Facebook’s mission to “build community.” Clearly, Facebook wants to extend this philosophy to Instagram.
What’s more, for Facebook, increasing the avenues for young people to interact with its platforms is crucial, considering how many of them the company’s signature product has lost over the past several years: In 2015, Pew reported 70% of US teens used Facebook, but by 2018, that share had dropped to 50%.
Instagram is still wildly popular among young people, and engaging them in groups that emphasize an important part of their identity could be one way of ensuring Instagram doesn’t follow Facebook’s path.