Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

Instagram: Beware of The Toxic Culture Behind It

The photo app is making us depressed, lonely and miserable. Why can’t we stop scrolling through the illusion?

Orge Castellano
Feb 4 · 6 min read

Who would’ve thought that the simple use of photography could again revolutionize the world? After all, it was a long time ago since Kodak — once a very powerful company — branded our ‘moments’ with the introduction of the compact camera. Instagram has revived and re-awakened the phenomenon radically changing the landscape of digital-sharing photography embedding it in our collective consciousness. But, how does the app affect the way we see ourselves? And, what negative consequences will the promotion of a perfect lifestyle bring to our mental health?

Undoubtedly, photography has seen a new light on Instagram, its use has been democratized and modernized. Nowadays, anyone with a smartphone can access and enjoy the antics of taking a picture and putting it online for the world to see, consume, and judge. It’s difficult not to encounter someone who hasn’t given in yet to the temptation. Since its creation, the platform has amassed over 1 billion users with 100 million photos pictures and videos being shared daily — as of this writing.

Instagram has dramatically changed the way we socialize through photography. The new norm is to get and gain attention and validation — mostly from complete strangers — in the form of likes.

The image-based app has become the must-have app for everyone — mostly young individuals. Unlike other social media platforms, Instagram provides a more powerful value: images. A very profitable business too, by this year, it’s said the app ad revenue could reach over $10bn.

Though for teenagers and young adults the app is can be quite dangerous since they are still trying to find themselves in the world. Furthermore, apps like Instagram exacerbate feelings of attention and validation in the form of unlimited scrolling and innocent tapping — almost harmless — heart-shaped likes.

A growing body of evidence suggests that the outgrowing use of social media is linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep among young adults. Its visual appeal wins major points in the technological sphere.

It gets worse when the images they are being exposed to are digitally manipulated or airbrushed. As Laci Green, a popular YouTube star says “because platforms like Instagram and Facebook present highly curated versions of the people we know and the world around us, it is easy for our perspective of reality to become distorted.”

Chessie King is a London-based model using her account to debunk the illusion of perfect body images while stressing that “no woman should be setting standards for herself based on beauty standards.”

Therefore Instagram has become the place to go in order to showcase one’s life.The picture-sharing app serves its purpose with excellence allowing users to be in charge of their own personal narratives. A life that might be also far from reality.

On Instagram users have the opportunity to become famous and be someone different than themselves. The platform has fostered the emergence of the “influencer” figure and created a whole industry behind sponsored content, and even though, Instagram presents itself as an outlet for individuals to fearlessly and creatively express themselves in a positive manner. The visually led community also encourages its users to present a perfect, attractive life. A two-parallel fantasy where true feelings and emotions are being blocked with likes in the form of shaped-hearts. A reality that other users may find misleading.

“The more advanced the technology, on the whole, the more possible it is for a considerable number of human beings to imagine being somebody else.” — David Riesman, sociologist

This like-seeking behavior promoted by Instagram brings potential harmful effects on our psychological well-being, a study published in 2017 has examined the links between Instagram use and how its use affects our overall mental health. For example, a user may be prompted to compare him or herself negatively after seeing a perfect-glamorous picture displayed in this social-visual environment.

As a society, we are currently immersed in this social-sharing experience where weakness, vulnerability, and sadness are often frowned upon.

This is more detrimental for young individuals, as Jean Twenge, author of iGen and professor of psychology at San Diego State University said: “young people, especially, look at the so-called ‘highlight reels’ people post on social and compare themselves, so they may feel depressed or negative emotions as a result.”

We currently live in a world where our lives are measured merely by the presence we have online, this also in addition to the number of likes and followers we get or have. Instagram, just like advertising, sells a product that enhances our constant obsession with perfection, ideal happiness, and gratification needs. As a society, we are currently immersed in this social-sharing experience where weakness, vulnerability, and sadness are often frowned upon.

This new obsession has a potentially harmful impact, particularly among women, according to a report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, Instagram imposes a detrimental imperative on its users — mostly female — which are more prone to “compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered and airbrushed versions of “reality” as Matt Keracher, author of the report has said.

Instagram has dramatically changed the way we socialize through photography. The new norm is to get and gain attention and validation — mostly from complete strangers — in the form of likes. At the same time the app tells us that by doing this we can be popular while displaying our lifestyle, social interest, and embracing our personality, when in fact by joining in, the user is putting at risk the sense of its own individuality. All of this phenomenon makes some people feeling anxious and left out if they are not taking part in the experience. Nowadays, there’s this current ridiculous idea that if one doesn’t exist online then one doesn’t exist at all.

We’re in front of a huge societal epidemic, as Olds and Schwartz argue in their book, The Lonely American, loneliness in the 21st century is higher than in any previous generations. Research has shown that adults are getting lonelier as time progresses.

We are more connected than ever before, yet, our relationships are decreasing, becoming more superficial, less rewarding and frequent. This could be the reason why we isolate ourselves in never-ending online fantasies seeking attention and validation. Instagram provides us with endless distorted versions of what beauty, love, relationships, friendships, and happiness look like in real life.

Not everything is bad news though. Instagram might have its positive side after all: from career and brand engagement to effortlessly bringing contact through the conveying of images and videos. The app is also a positive outlet for self-expression and self-identity. But, we should also be skeptical about its hidden influence and toxicity.

Social media is still so new that we haven’t yet seen the true extent of the damage to our well-being, that’s why we need to be alert and cautious about its use and impact.

At the end of the day, Instagram is a business controlled and owned by Facebook, which only goal — besides making people hooked to their our smartphones — is to make money and profit from our time by selling ads. Though, Instagram could come up with solutions in order to mitigate the issues. Social media platforms should introduce a series of measures to help those potentially suffering from mental health issues while discreetly signposting places like forums or chats where these individuals can get support.

Another solution could be the use of pop-up notifications to warn users about photographs that have been altered digitally and that have massively used filters. A small caption or icon can be added in one of the corners. Heavy usage warnings might be required to, for this, policymakers need to step in and come up with tangible solutions to regulate the industry before it’s too late.

Social media is still so new that we haven’t yet seen the true extent of the damage to our well-being, that’s why we need to be alert and cautious about its use and impact. Never before there has been such a great need for self-development and esteem education in our society. We are against a tidal wave of false expectations which somehow we hope to make a reality. We all want to look nice, be a part of a niche, and be seen from our best angles. But, how far are we willing to go to achieve utter perfection? And how will this obsession with attention potentially damage our lives?

Orge Castellano

Written by

Journalist and multilingual researcher at your service | itsorge.com

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