Since the mythology is that Facebook's advertising engine is a hypnotism mind-control ray that can turn anyone into a Nazi in a week, sometimes it's good to reflect upon how absolutely terrible they are at advertising.

Every few days I scroll through Instagram. Regrettably, I do this using the iPhone app, since they barely have a web site. This means that, unlike the rest of my existence, I don't have ad blockers, and it's awful.

For a while, every time I saw an ad, I reported it as "offensive". Because I find advertising offensive, so where's the lie? What I learned from this process is that if you report an ad as offensive, it will stop showing you that particular ad, but will still show you other ads from that account! So instead I started blocking every account that showed me an ad. That works, though it takes 5 clicks, but hey, everybody needs a hobby.

The Instagram accounts I follow break down roughly like this:

  • 70% unpopular bands;
  • 28% burlesque performers;
  • 2% people who do horror-themed prosthetic makeup.

So with that as the input, and after years of blocking ads, the ads that Instagram shows me are:

  • 95% realtors;
  • 5% financial investment podcasts.

There's a smattering of other weird ads in there, like the occasional ad for the gift shop of a museum in a state I've never visited, which can probably be attributed to an intern's first failed attempt at ad targeting. But, pretty much realtors.

It's always realtors no matter how many I block.

Maybe this is because realtors are the cockroaches of commerce; no matter how many you squash, there are thousands more, and they just keep coming. This tracks with paper spam, too: realtor postcards outweigh political advertising at least 3:1. The realtor mindset has a "firehose" mentality.

It did please me to report an ad for the only competing ad network as spam, though.

Also, most of the time Instagram shows me ads every five photos. Five photos, one ad, repeat like clockwork. It didn't used to be this bloodthirsty. Maybe my blocking triggered it, or maybe they do that to everybody now.

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28 Responses:

  1. Ron says:

    Hey, not sure if it will work in the particular case of Instagram, but give Pi-Hole (or even more seamless if you have a router supporting it, OpenWrt plus its adblock plugin) a try. Blocks lots of in-app ads, at DNS level. Of course, not bulletproof at all, and any sufficiently competent cockroach will find its way, but maybe it works now for your case.

    • jwz says:

      Translation: "Here's something that I have not tried, that absolutely will not work with Instagram. You're welcome!"

      • Ron says:

        Nope. I am using it now at home to successfully block ads in many apps and games. What I don't know is if it works in Instagram.

        • jwz says:

          You have not tried it with Instagram. It absolutely will not work with Instagram. Thanks for playing.

        • mattl says:

          The reason it works with those is because they're third party ads being loaded off some domain name/IP range that is just for advertising.

          Instagram is just showing ads as if they were the photos and videos of real people.

          • ilammy says:

            You got one thing wrong: from Instagram’s viewpoint the photos are just unpaid ads, not the other way around.

        • Joe Luser says:

          pi-hole does not work on instagram. i know this because i use both pi-hole and instagram. you could have easily given it a spin before humiliating yourself the second time here.

  2. Glaurung says:

    My preferred “hide this ad” approach is to tell it that it’s “irrelevant”. Since it fucks up their user tracking.

    On facebook, persistently hiding every ad you see makes them stop showing you ads for a period of time. Sounds like instagram is not nearly so nice about it.

  3. Nick says:

    I'm hoping there is some size of blocklist that will cause timeouts on the recommendation and advertising microservices but leave friends' posts unaffected.

  4. says:

    I hope you first click on each realtor ad in hopes they have to pay for it.

    Also, at least for Android there is at least one free (as in GPL) third-party app for Instagram. Maybe something like this also exists for iOS?

  5. Line Noise says:

    Sadly, I currently work for a large real estate search site and I can confirm that Facebook is our #1 advertising location.

    Our homepage is the only site I whitelist in my adblocker and holy shit is it a dumpster fire!

  6. I tried this with Twitter a few years back (blocking ads, blocking accounts, clicking the "I don't like this" button, etc) and what happened was Twitter thought I really liked ads. I went from seeing one ad every 7-10 tweets, to seeing an add every 4-5 tweets. My take away is, interacting with ads in any way will convince social media you really like seeing ads.

    • jwz says:

      I use Tweetdeck 3.16.1 and I see zero ads, so I haven't had to worry about that. I'm not sure why that is, though. I have these phrases muted, but I'm not sure if that's why: "suggest_recycled_tweet_inline", "suggest_activity_tweet".

    • Jesse Mullan says:

      Interacting with ads proves you saw them, so you become much more valuable, or by dismissing the, they have to make up for it in volume

    • tfb says:

      I suspect that unless what you are doing to ads is entirely automatable, then what you're doing is the equivalent to replying to spam emails: it's telling them there is a human there, and not a machine. That's probably not what you want to do.

  7. pakraticus says:

    My approach on ads
    Click the ad
    Look up the company's website
    Send a nice "Using real-time demographic driven ad placement instead of content driven ad placement dilutes your brand and makes it easier for ripoffs, counterfeiters, and fraud to fill your space. I'm now looking at $competitors after seeing your ad on $time_suck," to every email address I find on the website.
    Worked on facebook before cut back usage to once every 3 months to see if some idiot sent me a message.
    Worked on linkedin.
    No, didn't try on instagram because I refuse to use instagram.

    • jwz says:

      That.... sounds like an awful lot of effort.

      • pakraticus says:

        It is a lot of work. The payoff, the ads I see are promotions for 1e100's premium video service and ads on pornsites for pornsites.
        Okay, I get ads on 1e100's social navigation app too... Except they're timed to show up just before the traffic light changes to go.
        I also took the time to find the mute button for Gas Station TV (Right side, second from top).

      • Hey, everybody needs a hobby!

  8. Michael says:

    And once again I realize how lucky I am not having to use social media.

    It still gets me how all the non-techies I know keep “enjoying” social media and in general don’t even attempt to block ads. Though I noticed lately a lot of the advertisers are getting more aggressive and website blocking has to be adjusted more often than I had to in the past.

  9. Dude says:

    That sounds like me with the YouTube app: "Yes, Google, I clicked 'offensive' for spots from The Epoch Times, yet you keep showing them!"

    Now, they don't even allow you to dismiss ads anymore. They just have the "Why this ad?" option, which just shows why you were targeted with this spot (when I tried to click away a Trump campaign spot, the response was "Time of day or your general location," which is why my fucking location is always turned off).

    • Elusis says:

      Adblock Plus and UBlock Origin take care of YouTube for me.

      • Dude says:

        I actually meant the YouTube mobile app.

        I've already got a shitload ad-killing extensions on Firefox: uMatrix; Protect My Choices; Privacy Badger; even the DuckDuckGo and Norton extensions.

        But the YouTube mobile app is like mainlining the worst of Google, a company with which I intentionally limit my contact.

        • Kyzer says:

          I don't know what type of phone you use, but for Android, I use NewPipe. Free software, privacy respecting, offers download and background playing. No dependence on Google's proprietary libraries, so it runs cleanly on a vanilla AOSP phone. The only downside is that it further entrenches my use of a Google platform.

  10. Aristotle says:

    This is why RSS had to die. :-(

  11. Rich says:

    There are still a few companies scraping instagram and turning it into a somewhat usable website (at least, more usable than works for me now, although this same company seems to have been burning through URLs as Facebook discovers them.

  12. sal says:

    RSS Bridge will make RSS feeds from instagram user and tags, as long as they are public. I only use the app, which is a hot steaming pile like everything else Facebook gets its hands on; to post images.

    I self host an RSS feed reader and and use rss-bridge to pull in twitter and instagram. Until they ruin those APIs.

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