23 December 2019

Vox: “Instagram removing likes won’t fix its biggest problem”

Instagram has a way of flattening lived experiences so that my best years look exactly like my bad ones, and that everything seems pretty good, all the time, for everyone. This, obviously, is not how life works for most people, and ever since Instagram has existed experts have debated what seeing an infinite scroll of other people’s happy moments is doing to our brains.

Lately that conversation has gotten louder and more complicated. Influencers, models, and celebrities — the people who Instagram was supposed to work best for — are realizing that they have been made complicit in an app that feeds its users a poison of narcissism and envy and prevents them from ever logging off. They try to reveal what happens outside the camera frame; that no, their lives aren’t perfect either; that Instagram makes them feel bad, too. They share posts about authenticity and honesty and their quiet struggles with mental health that live directly next to posts devoted to toned ab muscles and champagne on yachts, which then makes the whole thing feel fake.

Rebecca Jennings

Powerful article about the unintended consequences of Instagram and the ‘perfect’ image it has promoted for so long. I wouldn’t necessarily blame Instagram alone for this, as users themselves share in the responsibility by posting, liking and going so far as to employ bots to increase their reach, but Instagram did provide a platform of massive scale for vanity and shallowness to thrive. Ironically, the recent measure of hiding like counts in the feed – still an experiment as far as I know – could in fact be another tactic to stimulate growth, and, knowing Facebook, that wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Instagram vs. Reality
Instagram vs. Reality

All this has contributed to the underlying fact that as much as Instagram is a place where bullying, harassment, and hurt feelings are rampant, it has also become profoundly boring. In our endless quest to chase the Instagram algorithm, now that we know what it wants from us — authenticity, supposedly, but mostly just the aesthetics of it — we resort to only the safest content, the things we know will convince people to double tap. We stay in our lanes; we adhere to the personal brands that have become happy little avatars for a life that everyone else thinks we’re living.

In doing so, we’ve also become distrustful of anything we see, even the stuff that’s pushing back against Instagram’s unpleasantness. When Olivia Muenter, a body positive fashion writer with nearly 19,000 Instagram followers, wrote a confessional post about how influence and authenticity were often at odds, the first comment I saw read: Can’t tell you how many posts like this I’ve read recently about authenticity etc. and I get to the end and it’s sponsored by like deodorant or pre-made smoothie bowls or something. I’ve come to expect it.

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