For how much time and attention I spend on Instagram, I haven’t been very mindful of who I follow, or how their posts affect me. I seem to follow a lot of interest-themed accounts, but also random “influencers,” and brands. While posts from the interest-themed accounts (e.g. @nytcooking) usually make me happy or inspired, and I often take the time to share them with friends and family, I don’t spend the majority of my time on them, or even my friend’s posts and accounts.
I spend the majority of my time looking at strangers who, if I’m being critical but objective, live in such a way that I could never afford, all while looking happier, more attractive, loved, and accomplished than I will ever be. I also spend more time looking at advertisements, selling things money can’t buy, yet making me feel inadequate without their products anyway.
The scary thing is that I didn’t realize what affect my Instagram feed was having on me, even though it was the collective result of my individual choices. This implies that while no single decision was necessarily poor, I hadn’t properly contextualized those decisions to be able to make the best choice for my long term wellbeing.
In my defense… Social media apps aren’t known for their ethical design and use. Which means, if you want to protect yourself against potential adverse effects of using social media, it is on you, the user, to be proactive. So next time you are scrolling through your Instagram feed try to pay attention to your experience.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you mostly follow people you know, or strangers’ accounts?
- What kind of posts and accounts do you spend the most time looking at?
- How do those posts make you feel?
- Which kind of posts and accounts results in you interacting with others (i.e. tagging or messaging people)?
If you answered “strangers,” for the first question…
You might want to consider unfollowing some of the personal accounts that don’t belong to people you know. The problem with following strangers is that we have a tendency to compare ourselves unfavorably and incompletely to others. When you compare yourself to someone you know, you may judge yourself to be lesser in one dimension, but you are more likely to be aware of the discrepancies between how they portray themselves online, and how they are in real life. When you compare yourself to someone you don’t know, you are more likely to convince yourself that if you only owned what they owned, you could be as happy they appear.
Only material items don’t result in long term happiness, and no one is as happy as their social media makes them out to be. Even people like me, who think it’s funny and empowering to sometimes post unflattering photos, are never as confident, interesting, or happy as we seem. Which is not to say that no one is confident, but that social media will only ever be a glimpse at the full picture, and is thereby unlikely to be well representative.
P.S. if you mostly follow people you know, you still have to be mindful that you aren’t comparing yourself unfavorably and incompletely, but you are probably less likely to do so.
Whatever your answer for the second question…
Pay closer attention to how those posts make you feel. If you are spending a lot of time “stalking” your ex recently, you probably don’t feel very good after going on social media. I have a tendency to spend a lot of time looking at photos of people who I judge to be similar to me (e.g. they grew up in the same town), but also better than me in areas I’m insecure about (e.g. they workout more than I do). It makes me judge myself really harshly, because it feels realistic that I could be more like them… but I’m not. I get really down about myself, and start berating myself instead of feeling good about other aspects of myself, or actually working on changing the things that bother me. Still, I was weirdly reluctant to unfollow those accounts.
P.S. If the accounts you spend the most time looking at bring you joy and inspiration, then it doesn’t really matter who they are. @OverheardLA may not be very intellectually enriching, but it’s ok if you use Instagram exclusively for entertainment, in fact it’s probably better that way. People who use Instagram as a news source are probably going to have to work a lot harder to discern bias, and fact check than if they got their news through more conventional mediums and sources.
Whatever your answer for the third question…
Social media brings us the most joy when we actually use it to be social. Scrolling anonymously past post after post, and/or only having one-sided interactions with strangers is not rewarding. If you can’t help but feel self conscious about your follower-to-following ratio, or you need to maintain a certain online presence for your job or your family, consider making a “finsta,” account. For those of you who don’t know, a finsta is a secondary Instagram account that is kept private except to close friends who won’t judge you, and who you can trust.
In an ideal world we could all be ourselves all the time without fear of consequences, but in reality... Some of us haven’t come out to our parents yet as gay. Some of us don’t want our double-chin photos to be linked to our Tinder profiles. Some of us just don’t want our bosses to see that we weren’t actually sick last Monday. Privacy is a rare commodity and it’s okay to claim some for yourself.
Alternatively, you might consider unfollowing some of the accounts that you aren’t really interacting with. If the posts aren’t even worthy of a like, are they really worthy of your most precious resources -- your time and attention? Probably not.
P.S. if you are having high quality interactions with users you don’t know in-person, that is totally fine! Social media can be an invaluable resource to people who don’t fit in to their homogeneous geographic communities, for finding like minded people.
Your Instagram feed can be harmless entertainment, or it can be harmful fuel for the fire of negative self-comparisons. Either way, it’s up to you how you choose to relate to its content, and how you choose to use the medium. Our advice is to curate your newsfeed with this in mind so that you are making it as easy on yourself as possible to have a positive relationship with social media.
If you want to take it one step further, and actually start to benefit from your Instagram use then we have one last recommendation for you: take advantage of the save option on Instagram! If you find a quote or image that really inspires you, or makes you laugh, save that post for a rainy day.
When you are on Instagram look for the bookmark icon in the bottom right corner right below the image or video. It will save to a collection where you can create different folders for different objectives. I have folders for everything from recipes I want to try, to reminders to be compassionate with myself. All you have to do is hit the plus sign symbol to create a new folder, and what was once passive scrolling and one-sided interactions, can now serve as daily inspiration and support when you need it.
We hope you have found this post helpful. Happy scrolling!
Written by Sophie Wright
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