When was the last time you called your school friend who now lives in a different city? Not that you can recall, right? You probably know everything about them—from their college life to their blossoming love story—without even talking to them. How?

The answer: Instagram. If we go by Statista reports, there are over 5 billion individuals worldwide who are active users of social media platforms. This accounts for a staggering 62.3 percent of the global population! Moreover, DemandSage reports that Instagram boasts an impressive 2.4 billion active users.

The platform captivates millions with its visually driven, instantly gratifying user experience. However, as Instagram’s influence continues to grow, so does the mounting evidence of its profound impact on our mental health and well-being.

This article delves into the paradoxical nature of Instagram. It aims to explore how a platform designed to bring people together has contributed to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and self-doubt.

The Rise of Instagram and the Illusion of Connection

As stated by Investopedia, Instagram started its journey in 2010, providing a simple platform for sharing photos and connecting with friends. Early users documented their daily experiences, journeys, and personal interests, fostering a strong sense of camaraderie.

The Rise of “Engagement”

As the platform grew, features like likes, comments, and direct messages encouraged interaction. However, a subtle shift occurred. The focus moved from genuine connection to “engagement.”

Users started prioritizing content that garnered the most likes and comments. This birthed the concept of a “connectedness theater”—a performance of connection rather than a space for authentic interaction.

Algorithmic Echoes

Instagram’s algorithm personalizes feeds, showing content it deems most engaging for each user. Although it is convenient, this phenomenon leads to the formation of echo chambers.

Users are predominantly exposed to content that promotes their preexisting opinions and social groups. This restricts their exposure to a variety of perspectives and promotes a feeling of detachment from the broader world.

Curated Feeds and the Hidden Effects on Mental Health

Instagram’s carefully curated feeds often present a distorted view of reality, showcasing only the most polished and idealized aspects of users’ lives. This “highlight reel” effect creates a virtual world where everyone appears to have a perfect existence, replete with flawless appearances, and enviable experiences.

However, this curated facade can have detrimental psychological consequences, particularly when it comes to social comparison.

Comparison Trap

With Instagram, users are inevitably drawn into the trap of comparing their own lives to the seemingly perfect lives of others.

This constant exposure to the best moments and achievements of their peers can lead to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and self-doubt. The pervasive belief that everyone else is living a more fulfilling, successful, and happy life can erode self-esteem and exacerbate pre-existing anxieties.

Fear of Missing Out

According to Forbes, the fear of missing out (FOMO) is a common byproduct of this social comparison. We have become increasingly conscious of how people are spending their time. Every party, vacation, and meal out is being shared with the world.

For some individuals, the continuous influx of documentation can result in this sense of FOMO. Users feel pressure to keep up with the experiences and milestones shared by their online connections.

While FOMO is not currently recognized as a diagnosable psychological condition, it can have a significant impact on both mental and physical well-being.

This constant sense of missing out on something better can fuel feelings of dissatisfaction and loneliness, despite being more connected than ever before. TruLaw reports that the use of Instagram has been associated with a rise in eating disorders in 17% of young girls. The constant demand to adhere to these online norms frequently results in a harmful cycle of self-evaluation and comparison.

Cyberbullying

According to a recent study conducted by Security.org, there is a concerning reality that needs to be addressed. Cyberbullying is widespread. It has a significant impact on more than 20% of teenagers between the ages of 10 and 18.

A significant portion of the surveyed teenagers reported experiencing negative emotions as a result of cyberbullying. Specifically, close to half of them felt anger, while a third expressed feeling hurt. Additionally, 15% of the respondents reported experiencing fear due to this issue.

These figures underscore the profound impact of social media. They blur the boundaries between a teenager’s online persona and their mental health in the real world.

The Legal Route Against Instagram

In October 2023, The Spokesman-Review stated that Washington State had declared to file a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook. There are claims that these platforms contribute to mental health problems by creating products that users find addictive.

Additionally, the District of Columbia and forty-one other states announced that they filed Instagram lawsuits against Meta. These lawsuits raise concerns about Meta’s intentional design decisions that prioritize features that contribute to negative social comparisons and body image problems.

In addition to the government authorities, an increasing number of parents are also filing lawsuits against the company. They claim that Meta knows about the life-long mental trauma being caused by its platforms, but is not taking appropriate actions.

Strategies for Using Instagram in a Mindfully

Instagram feeds can be negativity magnets. Take control. Unfollow accounts that trigger envy, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy. Seek out content creators who promote authenticity, body positivity, and mental well-being. Let your feed inspire and uplift you, not drag you down.

Time for a Digital Detox

We all know that scrolling mindlessly can devour hours. Set boundaries. Establish daily or weekly screen time limits for Instagram. Utilize built-in app timers or download apps that track and manage your social media usage. Remember, the world (and your mental health) benefits when you take a break from the constant feed.

Mindfulness Matters

Don’t let Instagram hijack your present moment. While using the app, incorporate mindfulness practices. Schedule breaks to disconnect and reconnect with your surroundings.

Focus on genuine connections in comments and messages, rather than just racking up likes. Remember, real-life experiences hold so much more value than their filtered online counterparts. Savor the present moment, and let Instagram be a way to share authentic moments, not a distraction from living them.

FAQs

Q: How can Instagram’s focus on “engagement” hurt mental health?

A: The constant pressure to get likes and positive comments can lead to a “performance” of happiness rather than a genuine connection. This, combined with curated feeds showcasing idealized lives, can trigger feelings of inadequacy and social comparison.

Q: What is FOMO (fear of missing out) and how does Instagram play a role?

A: FOMO is the feeling of missing out on something better that others are experiencing. Instagram’s constant stream of highlights and curated experiences can fuel FOMO, leading to dissatisfaction and a sense of inadequacy.

Q: Are there any legal actions being taken against Instagram?

A: Yes, several states and individual parents have filed lawsuits against Meta. The plaintiffs blame the company for contributing to mental health problems through addictive design choices that promote negative social comparison.

To conclude, while Instagram offers a platform for connection, its carefully curated world can fuel a dangerous disconnect from reality. The constant comparison game and pressure to maintain a perfect online persona can erode self-esteem and exacerbate anxieties. 

As we move forward, a crucial conversation is needed. We must find ways to leverage technology for genuine connection while fostering a healthy relationship with social media. We need to prioritize mental well-being, and embracing the beauty of authentic experiences.

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