Today, Instagram is releasing its most significant update since Stories in 2016: Reels, an editing tool that allows users to craft 15-second clips set to music with options to add timed effects, has officially launched in the US.
Users can access Reels from the camera in the upper left-hand corner, where you would normally go to film an Instagram Story, and then flipping through to the Reels tab. There, you can search an audio database, upload video clips and splice them together, add text, and play around with the speed or other effects, like greenscreen.
If this sounds suspiciously similar to a different very popular social media app, well, yes. Reels is essentially Facebook’s answer to TikTok, just as Instagram Stories were a pretty blatant copy of Snapchat’s own disappearing Story feature. Reels and TikTok are, for the most part, functionally identical, and Instagram is positioning it as such: as a place to hop onto trending memes and dances, to create goofy content, and perhaps, ultimately, to find fame.
Beyond the fun new editing features, though, what Instagram likely really wants to replicate is the endless scroll of TikTok’s addictive For You page, which is personalized to each user and has been a huge key to TikTok’s success. While the Explore tab on Instagram theoretically exists for the same purpose — to show users content they might like but aren’t following yet — the launch of Reels coincides with a major revamp of Explore, which will now include a For You page-type endless scroll of vertical Reels videos.
The launch comes just as TikTok faces mounting pressure from US leadership to sever ties with its Chinese owner, ByteDance, culminating in rumors that President Donald Trump will force a selloff. Facebook, which owns Instagram, has long considered TikTok a threat (Mark Zuckerberg tried to buy it in 2016). If Reels takes off, or if it replaces TikTok as the de facto platform for short-form time-wasting due to a political mandate outside TikTok’s control, that’s a huge win for Facebook.
There are a few minor differences between the two: Reels has a feature called Align that makes it easier to line up clips for more seamless editing. On the new Explore page, Reels will also label certain particularly entertaining or trending videos as “featured,” meaning they’ve been hand-selected by a person to appear in your feed. A user’s Reels videos will also live in a tab separate from their Instagram grid, located next to the tab for tagged photos.
Other than that, it’s basically … TikTok, but on Instagram. For better or for worse, judging by Instagram’s history, that may as well make it a hit.