Like all social networks, Instagram has limitations on what you can and can’t do. Some of them are terms of service guidelines regulating your interactions with users and the types of content you can post. Some of them are technical limitations designed to minimize spam and keep the network wholesome.
This is an interesting one. Instagram didn’t used to have limitations on how many people you could follow at any given time. There are accounts now that follow hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. Since then, though, Instagram decided to implement a restriction.
I’m not sure why they chose to implement that restriction, but my best guess is to alleviate spam. Spammers who sell follows in bulk from robotic accounts would be restricted, either to following X number of people then making a new account, or to unfollowing their early buyers before selling those follow slots.
As Instagram says, anyone who had more people followed than the limit prior to the limit’s implementation was not required to unfollow anyone. However, they will not be able to follow anyone else until they unfollow enough people to drop below the limit. The limit? 7,500 people. If you follow 8,000 people, you would have to unfollow 501 before you could follow one more.
There is no limitation to the number of people who can follow you. There is, however, a limit to the number of people you can follow or unfollow in any given hour. Though this limit isn’t posted anywhere, most people report that Instagram cuts you off – or suspends your account – if you exceed 20 an hour. That puts the daily limit at 480 follows or unfollows per day.
Instagram used to be limited specifically to square images, but they have since branched out to allow rectangular images as well. Both vertical and horizontal rectangles are allowed, though they are often “cropped” to display a portion of the picture in the primary feed. Clicking on the image will expand it to a larger display size.
Square images on Instagram are 1080 pixels per side, generally minimum. Mobile viewers will find that smaller images – such as images posted before larger sizes were allowed and the limit was 640 pixels per side – are stretched to display larger. The web app displays images in a 600 pixel box and limits display to 640, which is quite small.
Your profile will display your profile picture, your header image, and four rows of three images each, in a grid. These thumbnails are around 292 pixels per side, though technically it’s a scaled down image so this can vary by a few pixels.
When an image is clicked or tapped to expand it, it will be displayed in a 600 x 600 square, unless it’s a rectangular image. If it’s rectangular, the longer side will display at 600 pixels and the shorter will be scaled to compensate. Your images aren’t stretched, merely adjusted.
Your profile picture is a square on the web app, but on mobile it is cropped to a circle, with a border overlaid around it. The square is 152 pixels per side.
There may technically be a limit on the maximum size of an image you can upload, but it’s difficult to determine. Some people report 2048 pixels per side, while others claim to upload 4K images without issues. Anything too large may be denied, but it’s unclear whether it’s due to size or file size.
Comment, Posting, and Engagement Limitations
There are some limitations to your posting, both mechanical and social.
Likes: You can like up to 350 photos per hour. This is an incredible number of likes and is not a practical limitation. You would have to like a photo every ten seconds for the full hour to get that many and hit the limit. This and all other hourly limits are not reset each X:00 on the clock; rather, they are a “sliding hour” that measures your ongoing activity.
Each post – posted photo or comment – can use at maximum 30 hashtags. Practically speaking, 30 is virtually spam as it is, so I don’t recommend reaching that level regardless. Be pickier and stick to maybe 10 or so.
You can only mention five people by username tagging in your posts. You can plaintext mention as many people as you like, but you can only directly tag five of them.
Your Instagram biography and profile information cannot exceed 150 characters in length. If you can’t say it in a tweet, you can’t say I there either. Use links for more important information.
Both posts and comments are limited to 2,200 characters in length, which includes your username tags and your hashtags. Comments are truncated after 240 or so characters, with a […] symbol used to indicate more content a user can expand to read. However, in a social sense, shorter posts work better. If you eliminate hashtags and name mentions, a post should only be around 80-100 characters.
As far as I can tell, there’s no limit to the number of posts you can make in a day or in a given hour. I suspect that if you’re uploading posts at a rate of several per minute all day, you’ll be suspended for spamming, but no one I know has tested this to see what that limitation is, and Instagram themselves don’t publish a limit.
Unlike many social networks, there seems to be no upper bound on beneficial posts. For example, on Google+, posting more than 3 times per day shows diminishing returns for businesses. On Instagram, however, studies have shown that posting 1.5x per day on average is a good minimum, but there are very little diminishing returns as you post more often. As long as you can maintain your posting level, you can post as often each day as you want.
Instagram will filter or blog any comment made as a duplicate. You can’t post the same comment more than once, including comments that are just emojis.
The API is the code through which a third party app – any app designed by someone other than Instagram – is able to access and control Instagram functions. The API has two modes, Sandbox and Live, and each of them have different limitations.
Apps cannot post photos to Instagram, regardless of what API key is used. All apps created before November 17, 2015, are limited to Sandbox mode until they have passed review. Apps that have been created since then, or that have passed review already, use the Live API.
All limitations are, again, on a sliding one-hour scale. There’s no reset time, it’s just an average amount of activity on an hourly basis.
- Sandbox apps can only make 500 API calls per hour.
- Live apps can make 5,000 API calls per hour.
- Sandbox apps can only make 30 likes per hour, 30 comments per hour, or follow/unfollow 30 people per hour.
- Live apps can do each of those things 60 times per hour.
If you’re not a developer, you don’t need to care about these things much. They’re more or less the same as other limitations, just applying directly to the API. One thing to note is that they’re unique to the API access token. If more than one person or app is using the same token, they share requirements.
On top of all of this, Instagram reserves the right to suspend or ban anyone at any time for any reason. They can suspend you temporarily, they can ban your device, or they can ban your account completely. The first can be lifted with time, the second is circumvented by using another device or a factory reset of your current device, and the third requires making a new account.
If you’re familiar with any social network, you’re more or less familiar with what Instagram includes in their guidelines. Still, here’s a summary:
- Instagram has a very diverse audience ranging from children to grandparents and across all races and demographics. The points made in the guidelines generally serve to keep Instagram a safe and open environment.
- You are only allowed to share content that you have the rights to share. You can’t share stock photos or content you stole without having the rights to it. Content you create yourself is yours to post freely.
- You cannot share images that include nudity. This includes anything showing intercourse, genitalia, and nude ass. It also include female nipples in most cases, due primarily to Apple’s app restrictions. You also cannot share nude or partially nude children, even in “family photo” innocent contexts. The times are changing, and such photos are no longer kosher.
- You are not allowed to accumulate followers, likes, or shares by posting repetitively or in a spam-like way, or by directly contacting people for commercial purposes.
- You are not allowed to praise terrorism, organized crime, or hate groups. You cannot support them on the site. Likewise, you cannot offer sexual services, or the buying and selling of firearms, drugs, or anything else restricted by law. Online gambling is allowable only with written permission from Instagram.
- You are not allowed to make “credible threats” or hate speech, or anything that targets individuals in an attempt to shame them or bully them in any way. In general, anything that could be construed as a threat, bullying, or an insult can be removed at Instagram’s discretion.
- You are not allowed to glorify self-harm, which includes the usual cutting, but also includes eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Instagram has a help center page dedicated to helping others with these disorders. If you encourage, 4chan style, users to harm themselves, Instagram not only will ban your account, they may refer you to local law enforcement.
- When posting news events, avoid posting pictures that are outside the general bounds of decency. Intense, graphic, and violent images are verboten, though there is some flexibility. Using such images to glorify the events or to condemn individuals is often bannable, but using them to raise awareness is more likely to stay.
You are free to report any content that violates these guidelines, but reports are not necessarily acted upon. If the image is distasteful to you but not actually against the guidelines, for example, Instagram will recommend that you unfollow and/or blog the offending users rather than simply report the post. Additionally, you can delete comments on your posts that you find offensive, but should reserve reporting the user for actual violations. Note that you shouldn’t delete a post when you’re reporting a user for it; Instagram won’t find the post and thus won’t be able to act on it.
If your content is being stolen and posted by someone without your permission, or a person is posting content that violates your trademark as a brand, you can report these issues to Instagram. They have separate forms for copyright and trademark reports.
In addition to all of the above, there are terms of service for Instagram that you must follow. For example, you must be over the age of 13 to use the site. I doubt anyone reading this is younger, but who knows.
All of the guidelines about content you can and cannot post are included in the terms of service. So are the rules about bullying and abusive content. Additionally, know that you are solely responsible for the activity that occurs on your account. You are not allowed to sell or transfer your account. The only exception is when a business has authorized individuals to represent their account.
In general, the terms of service are all standard as far as a social network goes. If you’re interested in reading them specifically for details, you can see them here.
I will save you time on one issue, though. Prior to 2013, there was a pervasive rumor that Instagram’s terms of service allowed them to copyright and use or sell any photo you posted on their site. This stemmed from a poor wording in the terms of service at the time. Those terms were retired in 2013, though, and new terms have been put in place. You are the sole owner of your content and Instagram will not take or sell it.