Ever since Instagram launched Stories in August 2016, it has been somewhat of a no-creep zone. That is, you cannot watch someone's Story without showing up on their viewer list. (The list is only visible to the person who posted the Story, and can be viewed by swiping up on any Story post.)
But when it comes to how viewers are ranked on that list, the answer isn't so cut and dry.
We know a little bit about how it works: For starters, the ranking systems for feed, Stories, and Story viewers are all unique — there is no one order governing all three. However, the ranking systems for Stories and feed are based on a similar principle: Put posts from people and brands you are most likely to care about and interact with closer to the top (of feed) and front (of the Stories tray). While Instagram has never revealed exactly how it determines your preferences, you could guess that certain behaviours — regularly liking or commenting on someone’s photos and visiting their profile — will lead the app to prioritise some accounts over others.
Your list of Story viewers, meanwhile, is determined by a different system. “The list of people who view your story is ordered based on a number of signals including people who recently viewed your story, accounts you interact with the most on Instagram, and more,” an Instagram spokesperson told Refinery29 in response to inquiry.
This means that when you swipe up to look at who has looked at your Story, the list of people is not chronological. Nor is it based solely on whose Stories you watch most often. Instead, it is a mix of multiple factors.
There is no way to watch someone's Story anonymously and it's unlikely (though not impossible) that Instagram would introduce such an approach down the line. That's because seeing who views your Story provides an important level of transparency that isn't necessarily present — or needed — elsewhere on the app. (For example, it might not make sense for Instagram to show you who looks at your profile page every day since you can already see who's engaging with your posts through likes and comments.) The 24-hour lifecycle of Stories, meanwhile, and lack of Story "likes" makes it a valid place to show viewer history.