The Dark Side of Instagram: Losing Your Identity and Mental Health

Instagram has evolved as one of the highly successful social media of our times. Facebook knew the potential of Instagram when they bought it back in 2012 and it seems like they had a clear picture of what to do with Instagram. But what worries me is that Instagram has the potential to become one of the most dangerous social media when mental health is considered. If we don’t stop obsessing over our feed and live our lives entangled on Instagram; there is a high possibility that we might discover ourselves as depressed. Let me tell you how…

  1. The Instagram Algorithm

The internet is flooded with articles, forums, videos and podcasts on the topic of how to grow on Instagram. People propose all kinds of techniques and tips to follow in order to gain numerous followers and grow on Instagram.

But, understanding the algorithm is no rocket science, it is quite simple and plain. Unless we are driving traffic to our feed from external sources; spending precious time on Instagram is the only way to grow in numbers. The more we use Instagram tools like stories, IGTV and so on and the more we interact with others and their posts; greater the chances of others interacting with us and interacting with our content. The designers of the algorithm requires each one of us to interact more and more and spend a substantial amount of time on their platform. This rewards us with more engagement on our posts in the forms of likes, follows and comments. The numbers start to pop on our feed, those red pop ups flashes more frequently and we feel victorious.

If You Prefer to Watch the Video…

  • You Can’t Beat the Algorithm

 There are tons of people who teach and preach us on how one can “beat the Instagram algorithm”. But there is one thing that is clear as daylight: You just can’t beat any algorithm; we can work with it, understand it and get what we want by utilizing it. The preachers and the preached fail to understand that the algorithm wants you to behave in a certain way and they are doing that exact thing. So, the simple truth is “You can’t beat the Instagram algorithm”, we either become a part of it or we can chose to ignore it completely.

Again, the basic principle is engagement. They want us to be engaged, constantly scrolling through our feeds, double-tapping, commenting and connecting with others. What we get in return is the dopamine release and a false sense of achievement, when we observe the likes, comments and followers number go north. But, what they get in return is something precious and valuable in today’s age: ‘data’. Your preferences, tastes and behavioural patterns are recorded. Facebook wants us to spend time on Instagram; they definitely do not want the bots to do it for you. This brings us to the business model of Instagram.  

  • The Business Model of Instagram

Instagram is a free to use photo and video sharing platform. So, what good is it for Facebook? Just like the parent company, the revenue model of Instagram is based on advertisements, paid promotions and sponsored posts. The data that we mentioned before is used against us and pushed in a non-intrusive manner. We don’t feel it as intrusive as it is related to something that we like, which was made clear based on our activity on Instagram. Since we are needy and greedy for more interactions on our posts and feed; we spent more time doing exactly that, and they are more than happy to push in more advertisements. When the average user spends more time on Instagram, the more Facebook’s revenue grows.

  • The Lies You are Being Fed

The plethora of Instagram or Social Media Gurus and the so called “influencers”, constantly feed us a lie that in order for us to get noticed or in order for our art or business to grow; we need a good presence on Instagram. And for people to find us on this platform, we need followers and engagement on our posts; they are only partially correct. As a business, one can definitely benefit from the business model of Instagram; but as a normal person who wants to showcase their art or some kind of work to the world, we don’t need an Instagram account.

With those lies and the immense amount of time we spent on the platform, our mind slowly learn to seek validation for all the things that we post on our feed. We forget about our objective, whatever it might be. All we seek now are the likes, follows and comments.

We see successful personal brands, businesses and artists on Instagram; we observe that they have thousands of followers, likes and comments. We see artists being featured on pages and we slowly drift into the world of Instagram; the algorithm ultimately beats us and robs us of our senses and clear thinking. We fail to realise that these people and businesses are successful outside of Instagram, and their success had little to do with likes comments and follows.

  • The Slow Intrusion of Negativity and Depression

With the constant scrolling and staring, we start to associate ourselves with something big; we feel as though we are part of a big community. When we post something new, they provide validation in the form of likes and shallow comments, which might have nothing in relation to what you have posted. We yearn for validation each time we post a photograph, a story or video, from the Instagram community. Our mind starts to associate Instagram with a society, the word Instagram soon starts to remind us of a group of people, their faces and their happy memories.

We get into a habit of comparing content that someone else post, which is similar to ours. If we have posted something better than the other person, but he gets all the attention; we feel ashamed and start thinking on negative lines. We fail to realise that the comments are shallow; that everyone is keenly involved in a rat race to accumulate more likes and comments.

When we understand that our efforts to raise the numbers for in vain, we feel sad and depressed, a feeling of self-hatred and self-doubt looms over us. We develop a myopic view of what we post and we start to question ourselves on the quality of our posts. This will not help us in creating better content; we tend to follow the stats, the numbers… The numbers tell us that a certain post of ours performed better that something that we actually enjoyed creating and posting. We give up on what makes us happy on focus on creating what bestows us with validation in the form of high numbers and we lose our identity in this process.

We start checking our phones constantly like a maniac to see if something has happened; has anyone liked or commented on our post? We need the red coloured flashy pop notifications to affirm the dopamine release.

At times we realise that we are missing out on the beauty of real things. When we lock our phones and keep them away, we realise the reality that surrounds us but we feel out of place – loneliness, anxiety and depression engulfs us. We feel lost and insecure, only to pick up our phone again, to reaffirm and regain a figment of identity that we believe is real, failing to understand that it is nothing but unreal.

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