It’s official: Facebook knows that Instagram, which it owns, is bad for your brain. In a presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board in 2020 and leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances …
It’s official: Facebook knows that Instagram, which it owns, is bad for your brain. In a presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board in 2020 and leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, Instagram researchers noted that “32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” In a slide dated 2019, the researchers reported that “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
According to Haugen, “The choices being made inside of Facebook are disastrous for our children, for our public safety, for privacy and for our democracy.”
As you’d expect, Facebook and Instagram deny the allegations. But there’s tons of evidence that Instagram isn’t great for everybody. So what can we do about it?
Before we look at the tools we can use, it’s important to understand why we may need to curate our feeds more carefully. According to Instagram’s own research, “aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm”. Those aspects are the addictiveness of the app, the pressure to show only your best moments and the focus on beauty.
Social media such as Instagram encourages us to post heavily edited versions of ourselves and our lives, and to compare ourselves to other people who are doing the same: it’s all about the likes. Some of the most popular content features very beautiful people in very beautiful places doing very beautiful things. When we compare our real lives to their airbrushed, professionally lit, professionally styled, carefully photographed ones, because that’s what people do, that can have a significant effect on our self-esteem.
In a 2018 study of teenagers’ social media habits, 43% said they felt pressure to post only things that made them look good; 37% felt pressure to share things that will get a lot of likes or comments. A 2020 study of social media use among teenagers found that “social media was very robustly related to increases in depressive symptoms” in a way video games and other screen-based activities weren’t.
There are three key ways you can make Instagram a healthier place to hang out. You can use tools to restrict your use of the app, for example by limiting it to certain times or ensuring you don’t stay on it for hours. You can be more choosy about who you follow, although of course that doesn’t stop you seeing the ads or recommended follows. And you can use tools inside the Instagram to get more control over what you see.
Apple and Android phones and tablets have excellent tools for limiting screen time. In iOS you’ll find them in Settings > Screen Time > App Limits, and in Android they’re in Settings > Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls. You can then set daily limits for your app, so for example you might want to limit access to one hour a day. For parents you can also use these features to set limits on your kids’ devices; on Android, you do that through the Family Link app.
There are lots of features inside the Instagram app itself that you can use to change how the app works for you. They’re spread over multiple sections of the Settings page, which you can access from your Profile.
If you go into Settings > Privacy, you can use the Hidden Words section to block potentially offensive or triggering content; in Settings > Privacy > Posts you can disable Like and View counts, and limit who can tag you or message you.