Instagram logo in a garbage can

Please Stop Using Instagram

Especially to Communicate with Young People.

steve wright
Age of Awareness
Published in
5 min readAug 30, 2022


Our classroom exists on the edge of chaos. I like to think it is purposeful. It’s a surprisingly beautiful space, large windows running the length of two walls. It’s the corner office we deserve. We have a sink near the door and an electric kettle, a big fridge and a microwave, a blender and a panini maker. I try to keep oatmeal and hot chocolate in the cupboards. Ceramic mugs and metal cutlery. We do dishes. We are trying to build culture that incentivizes neighborly behaviors and creates a gravity for the inherently collaborative and vulnerable act of learning.

One morning before school a student who was not on any of my rosters was in our room. Holding safe and welcoming classroom culture is work. Newcomers need to be welcomed.

Me: “Hey, good morning. How are you?”
The New Kid: “…”
Me: “What’s your name?”
The New Kid: “…”

This is when I noticed that The New kid and Andre were staring at each other. Then Andre slugged him in the face, which is not included in our agreed upon norms. Queasily, I did the breaking up a fight thing. I Stretch Armstrong’ed between them. They danced and wriggled. I bear hugged The New Kid ’cause he was the one I didn’t know how to trust and waddled him out of the room and other awkward and uncomfortable and imperfect things until several minutes later when the boys were in someone else’s office and I was back in our room.


Later I learned that sometime the night before, The New Kid said something about Andre and at that moment Instagram did the thing that Instagram is designed to do. At that moment late the night before, our morning classroom violence became inevitable.

My school and my school district use Instagram to communicate with students. It’s an official communications channel. The logic is the same as with all social media platforms: “That’s where the students are.” and “Nobody reads emails anyway.”

Our students have to balance two powerful forces: belonging and independence. Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher and storyteller who has spent two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, says “a deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” Brown also says we each must have “the courage to stand alone, and to belong to (ourselves) above all else.”

Instagram exploits our need for belonging while simultaneously muting our capacity to understand ourselves as individuals with agency, individuals with the courage and ability to identify and make decisions that positively impact our lives.

In the second week of school this year we learned that one of us threatened violence against some of us on Instagram, always on Instagram, the official channel for threats of violence. This has become a regular occurrence. Instagram has a feature for this. Users create private “rooms”. Slights and insults, real and imagined, virtual and IRL, turn to threats and eventually threats are organized into a sort of fight club. Instagram has a feature for this. We are becoming numb to this.

On the day that Instagram scheduled the violence many students stayed home and the rest of us tried to school but we were really just anxiously waiting for the day to end.

The intention of Instagram’s underlying algorithm is to manipulate us, to change us, to make us more likely to click where Instagram wants us to click. This is why we have QAnon, this is why conspiracy theories have so much sway and staying power. Instagram is designed to attract and mold our attention, pushing us into places that make no sense to those of us who have been pulled into different places.

In his book, Human Intelligence, Stuart Russell — UC Berkeley Artificial Intelligence professor and UC San Francisco Professor of neurological surgery — writes a compelling description of this dynamic.

“(Social Media) algorithms are designed to maximize click-through, that is, the probability that the user clicks on presented items. The solution is simply to present items that the user likes to click on, right? Wrong. The solution is to change the user’s preferences so that they become more predictable. A more predictable user can be fed items they are more likely to click on, thereby generating more revenue. … (T)he algorithm learns how to modify the state of its environment — in this case, the user’s mind — in order to maximize its own reward.” — Stuart Russell, Human Compatible

Two days ago, right after lunch during 5th period our class was agitated. Students were sharing a video on Instagram. The video showed a fight across the street in the parking lot of the donut shop. One student picked up another and dropped him on his head. This video — sensational, disconnected from reality, devoid of humanity, reduced to two dimensions — this video is the sustenance of Instagram. These two young men were both craving belonging, every member of our community was craving belonging, as we huddled around our phones.

There is truth to the fact that only because the video was posted on Instagram do we know what happened. There is a more nuanced truth to the fact that because Instagram rewards clicks on sensational content this fight was encouraged, maybe even created, by Instagram. It’s rather miraculous actually. It’s difficult to unify students especially on a campus as large and diverse as ours. 2000 students and 150 staff were, to varying degrees, collectively and individually traumatized, not by the two boys in the fight, not by the students seemingly celebrating the violence, but by Instagram.

In our classrooms we — students and teachers — work to create culture that can serve us all, culture where both belonging and courageous independence are ordinary. Instagram makes this difficult, some days impossible. Only Instagram is capable of actually changing this. I feel pretty powerless in that context. But there is something simple and obvious we can do.

Those of us that are charged with the care of young people, those of who care for and about young people, we must stop using Instagram as an official channel of communication. Communicating with young people on Instagram today is like placing ads on cigarette boxes in the 1980’s. It’s not just tacit approval, it’s an endorsement. Quitting Instagram is literally the least we can do.



steve wright
Age of Awareness

The protocols of neighborliness are in contestation with the protocols of purity and the most important question we can ask ourselves is “Who is my neighbor?”