Gabby Petito’s 98 Posts On Instagram

A basic statistical overview of the likes and comments on Gabby’s 98 Instagram posts

Post 37. Hollywood, CA. 28 October, 2019.

Some time ago I had the idea to plot the number of likes and comments on all of Gabby’s Instagram posts. I noticed early on that her most recent post, dated August 26, 2021, had way more likes than the next most liked post, the one just before it. And the number of likes went down dramatically after that. I thought, this could be interesting.

But, I put that idea aside indefinitely. That is, until I watched this video on True Crime Rocket Science, a video channel owned and hosted by photojournalist Nick van der Leek:

“Statistics shouldn’t be applied as Gospel, but merely the logical jumping-off point.”

He discussed the use of statistics to help guide us – and law enforcement – to the most likely possibilities in any given scenario. Of course one can always appeal to Occam’s Razor, but that on its own isn’t very specific. In the case of Kiely Rodni, one statistic that should have been used, but was ignored by many, was that most of the time, a missing person is found near the location of their phone’s last ping to a nearby mobile network tower.

And so, energised by Nick’s discussion of statistics, I decided to go to Gabby’s Instagram account and start counting likes and comments. This kind of information is by no means meaningful to the investigation of her murder. Far from it. But I think it does have some utility in showing the ways that people interact with social media platforms, especially when their intentions towards a stranger are beneficent and well meant.

It’s also worth noting how few posts Gabby made on that platform. One would assume she would produce more than a mere 98 posts. Of course, YouTube is the more relevant platform for Gabby’s project, but at the same time, posting on Instagram is not especially time consuming. You would think she would have put up much more than she did – assuming that Brian didn’t delete any.

If you plot these data points on a graph, you get what a statistician would call a ‘long tail’ – large initial values, followed by rapidly decreasing values thereafter. In the case of Gabby’s posts, the long tail pattern exists, more or less, with the data points in chronological order. That is, from her most recent post to her very first post.

Likes, with anomalies noted
Comments, with anomalies noted

Of course, there are anomalies, for various reasons. Some of her posts happen to be significant for one reason or another. And by significant, I mean emotionally meaningful. For instance, a photo of Gabby looking her best, or posing in front of an angel wing mural, or with her boyfriend’s hand around her throat as they kiss.

These anomalies are highlighted with an image from that post. There are proper statistical methods to determine anomalies from the trend, although I just judged them visually.

Instagram posts can be shared via URLs outside the platform, and via stories within the platform. They can’t be shared in the timeline, as would be possible with other platforms like Twitter or GETTR. So the fact that certain posts got more likes than you would expect, given their place on the graph, is a reflection of individual interest more than it is of what is popularly shared. Those versed in psychology can better explain this kind of thing, where people independently come to similar conclusions about the same data.

Worth noting is that iOS lets you easily scroll to the top of a document or timeline, simply by tapping the very top edge of the screen. That’s the equivalent of the Home key on most keyboards, which, to the best of my knowledge, debuted on IBM keyboards in 1986. But in iOS, you can’t scroll to the bottom in such a way. Perhaps this, along with the chronological order that social media tends to use, explains why few people bothered to scroll all the way down to Gabby’s first post. The long tail shape of the graph is thus easily explained.

However, it’s interesting to note that only Gabby’s most recent post got a number of likes in the mid six figure range. Her penultimate post got in the high five figures – one sixth as many likes. That’s a significant difference. Maybe most people felt that the best tribute to her was to simply leave one like on her final post.

For what it’s worth:

Her least liked post was post 23, with 3397 likes and no comments.

Her second least liked post was post 41, with 3461 likes and one comment.

Her third least liked post was post 40, with 3476 likes and no comments.

Data was acquired on 29 August, 2022. Likes and comments were taken from hovering the mouse over the images on Gabby’s Instagram account while I wasn’t logged in. This was done on a desktop browser. But, Instagram does not allow users to view photos past a certain point without logging in. So, from post 59 and down, I had to use the Instagram Likes Calculator on phlanx.com. That site seems to accurately convey the data, as far as I can tell.

If you want to download PDF versions of these graphs, you can get them here:

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