Why Would Instagram Make Its Product Less Addictive?

Editor’s note: This Future View discusses whether Instagram harms younger users. Next week we’ll ask, “Do college rankings help match students and schools or lead them astray? Is there something important that the rankings leave out?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before Oct. 5. The best responses will be published that night.

I was 11 years old when I first downloaded Instagram. At first, it was all about posting food and funny memes. Then it turned into a competition over who has the most friends, the best relationships, the most followers, and soon, the picture-perfect body—photoshopped or not. Whose picture got the most likes? Did the right people like it? If a post didn’t perform well, it would quickly be deleted in embarrassment.

Now I’m 21, and I have learned to put my phone down and not post as much, because it is a source of anxiety. But it took years for me to stop caring as much about numbers of likes and who looks at my profile, and how many followers I have compared with my friends. For much of that time, Instagram was still relatively new; I can’t imagine how insecure 11-year-olds are now that it has become a lifestyle.

Instead of scrolling, consumed with what others are doing, teenagers could be making memories of their own. Instagram should get its users to care less. But why would it want to do that?

—Stephanie Morrow, Quinnipiac University, international business

Do the Algorithms Really Know You?

Instagram’s algorithms curate what users see based on the interests they demonstrate on the app. Yet the algorithms don’t capture what users strive to be, only what they are at their most superficial—and then give it to them all the time. In this way, it fails to expand their viewpoints or provide much of anything meaningful. What do you feel like you’ve really learned or gained from Instagram?

The algorithms know us, but not as well as their designers may think. We are more than what we choose to click on or stare at when we’re being fed addicting visual stimuli. Instagram would do better to ask its users what our interests are and what we want to see. It would help provide a better balance between base instincts and considered opinions.

—Rose Androwich, Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, Ind.), creative writing

No Rest From the Wicked

Rates of suicide and self-harm are up significantly for Gen Z, and the rise of social media likely plays a part. Before, bullying was often limited by time and space. When you went home for the day, the jeering usually ended. Now, if a classmate gets his kicks from tormenting you, he can use apps like Instagram to keep at it all day. Plus, there is no break from constant comparison with and evaluation from one’s peers. Before social media, when you weren’t invited to hang out, you might never hear about it, or it could at least be some time before you did. Now there’s no doubt. You will be updated on the fun your peers are having without you in real time. Social media amplifies the fear of missing out for teenagers, a demographic that already invests heavily in what others think of them.

—Connor Ellington, University of Texas at Austin, law

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