The Ugly Truth about Instagram

Oct 08, 2019

Instagram is often recognized as the social media platform. It’s an application that engages its users with visual storytelling through photos, videos and live-streams in order to aesthetically express individual identities. But what’s behind the picture-perfect face of Instagram? Anxiety. Depression. Bullying. Low self-esteem.

The ugly truth is that Instagram is deeply impacting the psychological well being of its users. While it’s a powerful tool for building people up, it’s an even greater tool for tearing people down. The current platform encourages self-expression often at the cost of the self as it encourages people to compare their lives and bodies to the filtered, Photoshopped, and unrealistic images filling their Instagram feed.

As an aspiring PR professional, I intend to always be the mediator and advocate for both my publics and my clients. Therefore, I am often given access to social media accounts for implementing campaigns. However, if I was given the chance to change Instagram’s platform for a week, I would advocate for a way in which Instagram protects and promotes its user’s health and happiness by giving users greater control over what is seen and when.

The first change I would make to ensure my goal for Instagram becomes a reality would be to change how the application opens to its users. When the Instagram application opens in its current state, it immediately takes the user to his or her feed which features the most recent stories and posts from the people that he or she follows. The problem with this is that it exposes users to images that may not be conducive for someone who is in a dour mood. For example, if a user is already feeling lonely, seeing images of people he or she follows out with friends will only make them feel more alone. In order to reduce the chances of aggravating negative moods, I would make the Instagram application open by asking how the user is feeling at that particular moment. To continue to the app, the user will have to select an emoji from a range of emojis with different emotional states. The app will then ask a follow up question by asking the user how they want to feel, which the user would once again select the corresponding emotion emoji. This change to the platform would promote self-reflection with the hope that it may increase the ability of the user to recognize his or her emotions and current mental state. Moreover, it may put users in mindsets for self-improvement and help set a goal for Instagram use, as opposed to aimlessly scrolling through it.

Based off the two questions that the user answers when starting the app, the Instagram platform should then suggest a category from a section called “Moods,” which would be categories pre-selected by the user to help him or her achieve the desired mood. While scrolling through Instagram, there will be an added “Mood” option where the user can choose which category a post or fellow user should be included in. Example category titles would include: Inspirational, Heart-Warming, Calming, Exciting, Comforting, etc. These “Moods” will allow the users to see images that help them attain his or her desired mood. Moreover, the Instagram algorithm can learn from the user’s “Moods” selections to suggest new content.

As aforementioned, many of the images on Instagram project unrealistic standards of beauty or lifestyles which can negatively impact the well-being of its users. Therefore, I would try and implement an algorithm that detects photoshopped or altered images on the platform. Images that are edited would be flagged with an orange paintbrush icon under the post. A user can click on this image to learn what percentage of image has been altered. By indicating the extent of editing on images, users would be reminded that they should not compare themselves to unrealistic images they see on Instagram.

Ultimately, I believe that by focusing on how users are feeling during my hypothetical week in charge of Instagram, the platform could better foster emotional health among its users. Moreover, Instagram could reduce bullying or hateful speech on the platform as a result of happier users. Often bullying or lashing out at others is the result of unhappiness and an inability to deal with emotions in a healthy way. While this would certainly not end all negative speech and emotions associated with the platform, I feel that emphasizing the happiness of Instagram users through the previously mentioned tactics would certainly make Instagram a more positive experience. Overall, Instagram is an aesthetic and powerful social media platform that can be made more beautiful by measures to protect the emotional well-being of its millions of users.


Aubree Ouellette, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: If you were in charge of Instagram for one week, what changes would you make to the platform? The class covers copyright and social media. Aubree is a double major in Public Relations and English.

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