The WHO (World Health Organisation) defines mental well-being as a state of well-being in which every individual is able to cope with the normal stresses of life and is able to make a fruitful contribution to society. This essay aims to deliver the impact of Instagram on the mental wellbeing of society. Instagram is an extremely popular social media platform and a subsidiary of Facebook, which Facebook acquired in April, 2012 for $1 billion. With an active user base of 80 million users a month, it is expected to touch one billion by the end of 2018 and that is approximately three times more than its rival counterparts, Twitter and WhatsApp. Having started out as a photo-editing app in 2010, Instagram has been become an extremely popular social media platform especially among young adults with 59% of the 18-29 year population using Instagram. Being a millennial myself, I had my first interaction with Instagram in 2012.
As an avid Instagram user, I would like to talk about the various ways in which the app keeps its users engrossed to become a smart phone staple. Its features such as live story, insta post, direct messaging etc allows one to be a part of their friends and family on a daily basis if not hourly. Through focus on visualisation along with features that allow high quality images to be published, it is also growing to facilitate trade as well as a dating platform. It is a storyboard of ones life and interests, which can be easily mapped by others with interest being expressed through likes, comments and direct messaging. Right from setting dates to actually getting married to a partner found on Instagram it gives an all encompassing experience to its users.
With a growing user base, it has massively increased scope for small and medium sized businesses and paved way to new occupation segments such as blogging. It has also introduced a new segment in marketing known as content marketing, thereby changing the media landscape. It gives the impression of a worldwide news platform that can be customised to everyone's needs whilst also giving each individual the right to voice their opinions.
Whilst Instagram largely amplifies freedom of expression, it has also allowed commoners to be influencers. Certain bloggers on Instagram have a larger fan base than celebrities. For instance British beauty and lifestyle blogger Zoella has 11million followers and celebrity Anne Hathaway has 10.3 million followers. Being able to attract millions of people residing all over the world is an aspect that has made Instagram a hot favourite amongst generation Z. It breeds creativity with people investing time in social media and actually understanding the Algorithm so as to be relevant to their target audience and attract a large fan base. This has shown to be positively affecting and engaging in influencer lead campaigns. Constant changes in algorithms for better targeting has lead to the app making increased efforts for the SME's to flourish. A clean eating blogger, who launched her brand Deliciously Ella on Instagram in 2013, today has about 1.3 million followers and as a result of her increased fan base has launched three delis in Central London. Having started out with a staff of four people, the company now employs 70 people.
Instagram renders a sense of personal and direct communication. It is easier both for businesses and audiences to connect on personal levels as it allows them to voice their thoughts and feelings whilst giving businesses a direct insight to their target audiences needs and desires. Instagram largely amplifies word of mouth, which is often regarded as the best tool to facilitate purchase. Fans become advocates of a brand and are seen to be fighting on behalf of the brand against any negative publicity the forum may invite. The brand admiration is easier to secure on a platform like Instagram if the content is relevant to the needs and desires of the audiences. Ex: Nike one of the first brands to incorporate Instagram as part of its marketing strategy, it now has about 75 million followers. Nike's PHOTOiD campaign is one of the most successful campaigns so far that has generated massive engagement with its audiences. By making use of visually appealing content on lifestyle representing the brand community, it has been able to evolve through story telling rather than self-promotion.
As mentioned above it is a medium that is increasingly successful as it provides enticement and enrichment benefits at varying degrees. By constantly monitoring its users activity and interest, it generates content that keeps them engaged and informed. Additionally, with the feature that allows cross tagging it is rather easy to gain traction and entices non-followers to follow the page. Instagram insights further help brands in building a community and showcasing content that creates a community of individuals with similar interests. The changing trend aims to focus on selling a lifestyle rather than simply selling a commodity. The OGX hair care brand saw a 5% increase through Instagram marketing with content that was focused on selling the experience that the brand stands for. Its campaign #rockwhatyougot reached 61% of its target audience along with a 4.6% increase in household penetration. Additionally constant modifications and changes to the app are helping brands in widening reach and scope of their target audience.
Ultimately, Instagram is creating a borderless economy by making it easier to stay connected with family and friends and strengthening interpersonal relationships with those who are geographically distant.
As much as I love Instagram, I am also subject to its impact on my wellbeing through feelings of anxiety and stress. At times, I have experienced stress as a result of ‘compare and despair' feeling that automatically arises due to access to plethora of people whom I don't even know personally. Increased interface to content that is directly aligned with my interest; I feel I am becoming more and more addicted to Instagram. Not an hour goes by without a quick tap and scroll through my feed. The reason behind my addiction is the fact that I can follow as many people as I like and most of my feed has content that is based on my interest directly.
A study conducted by Falvio Castellacci at the University of Oslo, revealed that increased usage of social media platforms can lead to feelings of narcissism and increased stress as people now compare their lives to others and that can have a negative impact on negative impact on users wellbeing. Another study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) which asked 1500 young millennial to rate social media applications such as Twitter, Snaphat, Instagram etc on 14 health and wellbeing issues. The study found that Instagram and Snapchat had worse impacts on the health and wellbeing of users whilst Youtube has the most positive impact.
The social comparison theory by Festinger proposed in 1954, states that people tend to evaluate themselves in relation to others to create benchmarks for their own abilities and beliefs. This mostly facilitates an upward comparison which allows people to evaluate themselves with people who are believed to be better, often leading to one indulging in experiences which might be difficult for one's own skill set. This constantly triggers feelings of anxiety and inadequacy amongst individuals as seeing other people's posts and learning about their life make others compare theirs to others and that negatively affects the wellbeing of the younger generation. In particular it affects their sleep quality, causes depression, anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out). Young adults who spend more than two hours a day on Instagram are the major victims of the ‘compare and despair' attitude as reported by the #StatusOfMind report. It also produces feelings of inadequacy especially amongst young girls and women through body shaming that is caused due to Instagram filters which people use. Additionally, people with poor mental health are drawn to using the social media platforms more and follow people outside of their friend circle, which ultimately can cause depression or anxiety.
I conducted a survey of 21 individuals asking them questions in regards to their social media usage, their most preferred social media application amongst Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook and lastly, the impact of social media on their well-being. Whilst there wasn't a strong correlation between Instagram and its impact on their well-being, there was clearly a striking correlation between Instagram and social media usage. Of the total 21 respondents between the age group of 19-24, 71% respondents voted Instagram as their favourite social media platform followed by Facebook at 33%. Additionally, of the total time spent on social media, 80% respondents use Instagram the most and 66% respondents feel that social media hampers their efficiency on a daily basis. When asked if Instagram has ever impacted their wellbeing by causing anxiety, FOMO (fear of missing out), 9 respondents agreed to have been subject to anxiety and FOMO and remaining respondents didn't experience any such feeling.
Another study revealed that there is an increased movement of pro-anorexia, which is a belief that extreme food restriction is a result of lifestyle choice to be thin. Instagram actively supports the above phenomenon with thousands of images being shared on Instagram daily supporting the idea of pro-anorexia and is contributing to building a community of people who believe in a similar institution of extreme food rejection. The study also found a strong correlation between depression and pro anorexics with girls experiencing higher levels of worthlessness, as they seem to be sharing content on suicide and self-harm.
One of the biggest and most impactful measures would be limiting the frequency and number of posts that can be reflected in an individuals feed. Ease of access to content and open profiles that are directly aligned with one's interest entices users to be active on the account for more than at least two hours daily. Having asked individuals from my personal Instagram account if they are Instagram addicts, the result was rather shocking. Whilst the results in the survey reflected that only 33.33% respondents felt that they were addicted to Instagram, the result when asked on Instagram revealed that 81% respondents from a similar sample size of 21 individuals felt they are addicted to Instagram. This clearly indicates that there are users who feel a need to be constantly active on Instagram.
Secondly, there should be a mandate by government to encourage Instagram to send a monthly usage report to its users. A report detailing the number of hours an individual spends on Instagram along with an analysis on which day the usage was maximum would be really beneficial. This would give an insight to the user on their consumption patterns and make them vigilant of their usage and surely trigger a response that is healthy for the well-being of the individual.
Thirdly, an educational program for young adults who are new to Instagram should be introduced. They should be informed of the various features that Instagram has and how people purposely use high quality pictures to entice a response in the form of interest from others. Young adults in the age group of 14-19 should be made more aware of the consequences of using a social media platform so feelings of anxiety, self-consciousness can be eliminated. It is very important to highlight the power of social media in driving social change in the form of widespread reach.
Lastly, there should be regular checks on the way the data is used by the application. There have been reports that Instagram and Facebook have leveraged their data for influencing people's perceptions towards political parties worldwide. A well-informed society based on facts will make the world a better place to live in and provide for a positive well-being for the future generation also.
It is safe to conclude that whilst social media provides for positives in the form of access to cultures along with strengthening connections with friends and family in different parts of the world, it is also inducing feelings of anxiety and depression thereby impacting the mental wellbeing of society at large. Working towards a positive mental well-being through recommendations as suggested would surely make up for a positive change and facilitate growth towards building a healthier society.
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