I first joined Instagram in April 2015 following pressure from friends who had gone abroad for further studies. One of them who was in the United States really insisted that the easiest way for her to share videos and pictures was through Instagram, so I eventually bowed to the pressure and created an account. Little did I know how much the app was going to drain me emotionally.
Every time I logged in, there were friends and acquaintances showing off their ‘living large’ lifestyles. Feed after feed showed photos and videos of them doing incredible things and having a wonderful time. As if that was not enough, there was the pressure to gain followers on the platform.
I started to feel miserable as many questions raced through my mind: What is it that I am not doing that makes me unable to live like my friends? Does it mean I am not enough because I have only 50 followers? After all, it’s been three months since I created my account.
I started to believe that there was absolutely something wrong with me; that I was not doing enough. It got to the point where I started Googling stuff like “How to gain more followers on Instagram”.
Seeing friends appearing to be always on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out. So much so that an actual term was coined for this: Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), which is described as a social anxiety that stems from the belief that others might be having fun while the person experiencing the anxiety is not present. It is characterised by a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing, hence the endless, time-consuming scrolling.
Indeed, FOMO is said to be a real and increasingly common phenomenon that can cause significant stress. Such feelings, if not managed, lead to comparison behaviour that causes the person experiencing such anxiety to set unrealistic expectations on themselves because they believe everybody on the platform is living a perfect life.
It is sad that we have become enslaved in a fallacy that suggests that being popular on social media means you are loved and influential. What young people, especially young girls, need to know is that Instagram content is usually manipulated to reflect positive images because people tend to filter their lives to show only what they want their followers to know and think about them. For instance, the kind of photos women share on Instagram are usually very flattering, showing off perfect bodies in perfect outfits. Controversy also generates a lot of traffic. This is why some people, especially celebrities, will go so far as to post sexually suggestive photos and videos. Such images can easily cause followers with body image issues develop low self-esteem.
According to a status of mind survey of 1,479 young people (14-24 years) published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing as it is associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and fear of missing out caused by the fake lifestyles displayed on the platform.
This points to how toxic social media can be if it is allowed to take over one’s life. I have come to realise that users must make a decision to protect themselves. You could start by developing a careful attitude and coming up with self-regulatory strategies such as limiting the use of Instagram to once a week for a specific time, say, 10 minutes. You could also decide to log in only to check for notifications – this would limit interactions with your contacts and eliminate mindless scrolling.
It has been five years since I joined Instagram and so far I have managed to have only 337 followers. My photos have been ranked among the highest with the number of ‘likes’ a mere 31 times. This would really have bothered before but with time I have leant that there is more to Instagram than just posting a photo or video for the ‘likes.’ Right now I use Instagram mostly to find out what is going in my world – what or who is trending, the latest in terms of fashion and architecture – and to know other people’s opinions when it comes to issues affecting young people.