The New York Post made headlines and headaches for Facebook when it published a story Thursday night claiming that Instagram’s daily active user base had dropped by nearly 25 percent.
The article pointed to Instagram’s recently proposed policy changes as a potential reason for the user decline. On Friday morning, Facebook shareholders proceed to follow suit, immediately dropping the stock’s value by 2 percent when the market opened. Facebook’s stock has begun to recover as folks start to realize the house of cards that is the Post’s headline.
The Post cited data from AppData, an analytics firm that tracks usage among social and mobile apps. According to AppData, Instagram hit 16.4 million daily active users (DAUs) on Dec. 19, two days after it announced the policy changes, and proceeded to shed daily users over the following week, bottoming out at 12.4 million DAUs as of Friday.
There are a few problems with how the Post is framing these stats, however. First, Instagram is accusing the publication of being factually wrong. “This data is inaccurate. We continue to see strong and steady growth in both registered and active users of Instagram,” emailed an Instagram spokesperson.
Even more to the point, AppData only measures Instagram users that have connected their Facebook accounts to the app. It’s hard to quantify what share of Instagram’s users fall into that category—and Instagram isn’t helping matters by keeping mum when asked for that share percentage—but it may be a stretch to take that segment of Instagram’s user base as a proxy for the whole.
And yet more problematic for the Post’s claim is its timeline. As Quartz showed, AppData actually shows that Instagram’s daily user base didn’t really shrink until Christmas Eve. From Dec. 19 to Dec. 24, DAUs dropped by 1.3 million, but then plunged by 2.6 million from Dec. 24 to Dec. 25.
It’s counterintuitive that usage would drop on Christmas Eve/Day, given all the opportunities for picture taking and sharing, but the holiday correlates more closely with the DAU drop than the policy changes announced the week prior. Since the Christmas Day Drop, Instagram’s daily user numbers, per AppData, have hovered at 12.4 million.
It’s probably good to view the DAU numbers alongside Instagram’s weekly and monthly active user numbers to get a better idea of what’s going on. According to AppData, MAUs actually rose by 1.7 million from Dec. 19 to Dec. 28 to 43.6 million users, and WAUs grew by 1.1 million from Dec. 24 to Dec. 25 to 27.5 million users.
Collectively, these stats suggest that users aren’t checking out Instagram as frequently during the holidays, just as they aren’t really checking out the supposed Instagram usurpers Flickr, Snapseed and Hipstamatic, as pointed out by Techcrunch.