In Defence Of Instagram
Despite the recent studies on Instagram's negative impact on teens’ mental health, older Instagram users find the platform can be a private and very safe space.
Somewhere between the people who were born before 1996 and those born after, the way people see Instagram changes. Those falling into the latter see Instagram as a d*ck-measuring of social capital. They have at least 800 followers, post multiple pics a week, and see any post that doesn’t garner at least a three-figure number of likes a failure. Posts that don’t get enough likes will get deleted. Posts without enough comments will get deleted. In fact, posts that don’t get enough engagement within the first ten minutes will get deleted.
I, and my peers who fall into the former category, have a very different Instagram experience. I am proud of my less than 500 followers. I’ve done a ‘really good post’ if my upload gets over 70 likes. In five years on the app, I’ve had only one picture hit more than triple digit hearts.
There’s been a lot of talk around Instagram ever since this study came out back in May ranking the app the worst social media platform for teens’ mental health. This news was probably not much of a shock to most of us. With the hyper-awareness teens have around each other thanks to the platform, evidence shows that they’re suffering more in droves from a whole host of mental health issues from body dysmorphia to severe depression. Instagram, for teens, has made become a place that creates anxiety.
However, for those of us in the Insta-oldie category, the case can be almost entirely the opposite. For those of us in that category, Instagram can not only be a healthy space for us to share, but can actually be a safe haven in the landscape of toxic social media platforms. Although this might be a bizarre thing to hear given not only a lot of our anecdotal experience and the recently published evidence, the teen scene is vastly different from the adult one.
Let me explain.
You’re posting for a smaller, curated audience
For the younger generation of Instagram users, their enormous follower counts are inflated because kids follow other kids until they’ve followed, effectively, everyone at their school. And the older you get the more well known you become, and you see your follower count tick up accordingly. This means that almost every teen that follows this routine has their account on display for not just nearly everyone they know, but everyone they see on a daily basis (plus some). Mix that degree of attention with the general insecurity that teens face and you have a perfect platform for generating unrelenting anxiety.
This culture does not exist for the older Instagrammers. Instagram only grew in popularity as these people would have left school and run off to new lives at work, college or university where they stopped interacting with people from their youth. Because of this separation, when they downloaded Instagram, they didn’t have to deal with everyone from their hometown following them and peering at their lives. Nor, in fact, did they develop the culture of obsessively following everyone they know, keeping the people they didn’t really like nor the people they didn’t really know from following them. This means that, now, the older users have much smaller follower counts and much smaller audiences to share with and, therefore, the platform has become less of a performance. Sure, anyone posting anything online does so to create a particular image, but when you’re doing it only for your close friends and fam, it’s a significantly less stressful experience.
Without this stress, the older generation can post things they actually care about. Maybe it’s their breakfast or their dog, their boyfriend or their wonderful face. Whatever it is: the older generation spends a lot less time worrying about the reaction that post will get.
Instagram is where you can be unironic
For the oldie group, Facebook and Twitter were the new, cool platforms to use when they were in their teens which then morphed into hotbeds for weird internet culture, memes, and battering arenas in the comment threads. Although they might have been initially, these platforms no longer serve many of us as a place to share earnest thoughts, feelings, or updates, but just act as a place to tag our friends in articles and retweet funny posts. Facebook has become a platform used primarily for messaging and Twitter has become a place for jokes. So where does our earnest content go?
You guessed it: Instagram. Because the Instagram culture described in my last point never really developed for the older generation and there are only small audiences to post to, it has become the place to deposit earnest, private and unironic content. However, the younger Instagrammers are robbed of this with none of their platforms giving them a safe online place to share.
It’s also where you can be non-combative and uncompetitive
Similarly to the last point, without having the heavy comparison and competitive element of every single one of our peers, Instagram is also a respite for a different reason: to hide from the combative nature of other social media platforms. On Facebook and Twitter, you can post practically anything as uncontroversial as ‘hurricanes are bad’ and be met with an armada of hurricane enthusiasts who will tell you where you can shove your shitty, uneducated opinion. On Instagram, however, people generally refrain from a) posting opinions and b) arguing in the comments.
Of course, teens may also experience this combativeness on Facebook and Twitter too (age does not shield you from people screaming their opinions at you in a comment section). But a passive aggression and competition 100% exists for them on Instagram as well. Whether it’s posting a barbed caption aimed at someone you’ve got beef with or trying to get more followers/likes/positive comments on your pics over someone else’s, the Instagram world for teens is, as we’ve seen, a lot more public than those of adults. This makes posting often not just about your own image, but about proving its better than someone else’s. Although, it’s not happening in the obvious way you witness on other platforms, but it is, indeed, happening.
You aren’t beholden to rules or norms
Like I mentioned at the start of this article, teens have unspoken rules that on Instagram, such as appropriate likes per minute, comments per selfie, or followers versus following that adults on the platform just don’t worry about. Without having such a big nor such a judging audience to perform for, the older users are left worrying a hell of a lot less about posting pics that will get tons of attention. Instead, they post a lot more about what they genuinely would like to share. There’s less fear over imperfect selfies or sharing what dorky activity they’re up to or sharing what the things they’re proud of, large or small. They feel more open to posting honestly about things that they found hard or that they really loved or enjoyed.
Anecdotally, I didn’t post a single thing about when I first started dating my boyfriend on any social media platform until we’d been together for nearly a year. That was, of course, aside from Instagram. Because it feels like a small, safe place where I wasn’t beholden to as many judging eyes or set norms, I felt confident posting something I tend to keep very, very private.
The older Instagram users have less people who will look at what they have to share. And, because of that, they are free to adopt fewer rules on what or how they post.
The feeds are comparatively more wholesome
My friend Mimi, who is on the younger side of the older Instagram generation, put it nicely on why Instagram is good for it’s older users: ‘soft pictures with little text.’ That is, to say that for teens Instagram can be a toxic and grating thing to look at. But for older users, it can actually be a soothing practice.
Picture this: It’s Sunday morning and you’ve just woken up. You roll over, grab your phone and open Instagram. What do you see? If you’re a teen, you’re being hand-delivered an onslaught of FOMO-inducing pictures from nights out, posted by people you don’t really like or really know. However, if you’re in the older generation you get uploads from your parents out in the garden or your friends walking their dog. You see people’s homemade lasagne from last night and brands posting light pictures of soft furnishings and coffee.
When you’re on older Instagram, sure, you see people out having fun and making their lives look like a nonstop joy ride. But you also see a lot more cliché sunsets, cats, groceries and sunflowers. You don’t see many bikini shots, nights out, or prosecco-hoisting boomerangs. It’s not that these things are bad or not okay, post whatever the hell you like and have fun, but they often lead to unhealthily comparisons of ourselves and our lives to those of our counterparts. FOMO-inducing pics create this, pictures of your aunt’s latest recipe, on the other hand, does not.
Instagram, as a platform, has a lot of flaws. From its double-standards on nudity to its f**ked up algorithms, it leaves a lot of issues even beyond what it’s doing to teens mental health. But for some of us, a loophole has been found. And it, for us, it makes Instagram not just good, but our happy place to go online. And for those people who use it in that small, private way, Instagram has managed to make a wonderful safe space among the drudgery of the social media.
Words by Sarah Manavis.
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