The Anti-Climactic Exploit Every Instagram Influencer Has Been Dreaming Of
Having grown by over 40 million users in the United States alone since 2015, Instagram is the second most popular social media site in the world. Nestled between flashy photos and worldwide communities is the potential for fame and fortune— if you know how to use hashtags.
Aside from the photos themselves, many Instagram celebrities claim that hashtags are the most important factor in acquiring Instagram success.
You can’t find a “Top-Ten Best Ways to Increase Your Instagram Following” guide that doesn’t talk about hashtags at length. Simply put, hashtags are the single best way to be discovered by users who are not already following you because they land your photos on Instagram’s “discover page.” This page is constantly searched by users who are looking to follow new content.
For this reason, Instagram influencers — people who amass a following large enough to monetize their posts — spend a HUGE amount of time figuring out what are the best hashtags for their photos. Better hashtags means more likes and more followers which equates to more money.
In addition to hashtag quality, the Instagram community is pretty set on the notion of hashtag quantity. The more hashtags you can cram into your photo the greater your chances at finding success.
However, if you’ve ever tried to cram your post full of hashtags you know that Instagram limits the number to 30 per post. Still, many influencers swear that you should make the most of every one. One influencer, Sheldon Evans, put the argument like so:
Every hashtag is like a lottery ticket. If someone asked you to pick between 1 lottery ticket or 30 lottery tickets, you’d pick 30 every time.
At the same time, there’s not a lot of transparency as to how hashtags work. It seems the Instagram community isn’t 100% certain what makes a hashtag better and what quantity of hashtags are optimal. It’s more of an art than a science, though there have been theories.
In the past, there have been Instagram hashtag glitches that allow users to post up to 60 hashtags. Many users have adopted this exploit as a tool to gain an edge on other influencers with varying levels of success.
So if 30 hashtags are good and 60 hashtags are better, what about 1000 hashtags? Does 10,000 hashtags guarantee instant Instagram fame?
I found a way to add as many hashtags as I wanted and put that question to the test
After finding out about the 60-hashtag glitch, I was curious if there were other bugs floating around Instagram’s web app. I created a private test account and tried all the common XSS-attack characters — symbols that commonly break input fields on web applications — that I learned in my security class at the University of Michigan.
Surely enough, one worked.
Turns out adding an ampersand before the pound symbol in the Instagram web app bypasses the limit of hashtags you can have.
Example Hashtag: &#insertHashtagHere
Upon figuring this neat trick out, I made this post with around 800 hashtags below.
And then something unexpected happened happened: Nothing. Nothing happened.
100% of the interactions on the photo came from people already following me. The hashtags were completely irrelevant.
Now I wasn’t expecting to quit my day job to become an Instagram model overnight but I definitely expected at least a handful of bonus likes from strangers on the internet. Granted, I didn’t spend much time choosing which hashtags to post. My experiment was purely quantity oriented. Additionally, I only made one post, so it’s possible that this photo could’ve been a dud.
Still, it seems unlikely that I wouldn’t get a single bonus like out of 800 hashtags if their effectiveness truly scaled proportionally.
It was disappointing to see my experiment fail but regardless we can now safely say that bigger is not definitively better and there’s no such thing as “instant Instagram fame.”
Though hashtags remain one of the most powerful tools available to influencers, their inner-workings remain an enigma.
This exploit has been submitted to Instagram’s bug bounty program. They’ve confirmed that it did not pose a security risk to Instagram before the publication of this article. Please hack responsibly.