The dark side of Instagram

Every day, more than 75 million people use Instagram. 20% of people who use the internet world wide have Instagram. There are 400 million active Instagram users every month. These statistics are pretty horrifying, right? Considering Instagram is pretty much just a bunch of photos of food, coffee, nature and bikini models. I would like to use this opportunity to talk about the often hidden, unnoticed aspect of the social media platform. Although it is less political due to limited text, Instagram has several potential dangerous effects on someone’s life. I’m going to use two examples, one personal, and one that was plastered all over the media. Lets begin with the personal one! During my late teens, I came across a dark, poetic and pitiful side of the fun, colourful and adventurous platform we know as Instagram. I found lots of accounts that posted depressing, sometimes suicidal quotes and poems and soon my feed was filled with depression and grief. My friends noticed and were instantly worried, but I saw no problem in it. Looking back, I realise this sounds completely insane and it was perhaps an outlet for my personal issues as I have never been one to open up to people about negative things. This whole experience opened me up to a side of Instagram that is quite scary. I discovered it was also a platform for people to unload their mental illness onto, which actually introduced a large fan base of people that were also unwell. Speaking from personal experience, this can have such a massive detrimental effect on someone’s well-being, and if they are mentally ill, could preclude recovery. During this sad time of my life, there was no doubt that Instagram- as a social media platform- shaped who I was at the time, as well as who I am now.

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The second example I am going to give is something that had a lot of media attention earlier in the year. An 18 year old “Instagram famous” model named Essena O’Neill had been making thousands of dollars modelling on Instagram and sharing her photos with over 580,000 followers when she suddenly broke down and re-captioned every single one of her photos to reveal the truth of what actually was going on the time that a particular photo was taken. Here are some examples.

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It is hard to believe this girl is still in high school and has been taught her whole life that likes define her self worth. It’s really sad when a small device in our pockets can quantify just how loved and valued we are. This whole event with Essena, when first published onto several websites and blogs, sparked a very positive response, with people being reminded that self-love does not come from strangers on Instagram and that social media is not real life. However, the more viral Essena got, the more people became suspicious of her true motives. I started reading comments on articles that Essena had an agenda and that we were all blinded by her candour and “honesty” when it came to Instagram. Essena did not help this suspicion as she actually set up a GoFundMe page and asked her followers for money. Keep in mind this is a young girl who still lives at home who has already earnt tens of thousands of dollars during her months as an Instagram famous model. People started believing that the whole thing was actually a publicity stunt, and I have to admit, if it was she did a pretty good job as I, and many other internet users had never heard of this girl before she decided to be an internet “game changer”.

In the case of this girl, an argument can be made that sometimes our identity actually arises from our interactions with other people. I myself use Instagram not as a platform to become made aware of, or for attention, but because I like to tell the people that follow me (friends, family mostly) of what I’m doing or maybe even something superficial like a new haircut. It is becoming increasingly popular for mostly women to make money out of Instagram, and to do this they must portray a “perfect” lifestyle of detox teas, intricate salads, yoga, fashion and beauty. Yet 99% of accounts do not mention the effects of detox teas (a long time on the toilet), the hours it takes to look camera ready, or just the truth of what happens behind the scenes of this “perfect” life that most of the time is not perfect at all.

Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher, states that our identity is partly shaped by recognition, often by the miss-recognition of others. This has had a damaging effect on today’s social media users as people feel they are then confined to a certain picture of themselves, just as Essena experienced. As these two very different accounts tell, there is a dark side to Instagram that many people are either not aware of or are so obsessed with the platform that they are totally unaware of the detrimental effects it is having on their well-being.

References:

Week 2 Lecture

By The Numbers: 160+ Interesting Instagram Statistics (January 2016)