Instagram and its underrated toxicity

An informal understanding of the toxic effects caused by Instagram

Neeraja Kulkarni
3 min readMay 11, 2020

Many of us have been using Instagram for more than four years now. It is a part of our lives as much as Facebook was when it entered our student lives. Instagram as an application for social conversation has attempted to create a positive platform for all ages to share their life stories. It has encouraged many people to embrace creativity and share their progress with their peers. However, along with its upsides, the app has downsides as well. I have felt like quitting the app on numerous occasions. It will be interesting to note why we feel addicted to the app all the same. Why do we feel low when we don’t get enough likes? Why do we instantly get satisfied with greater number of likes? It is a social platform and we cannot keep emotions out of it. But why do we let it affect us on such a massive level? No matter what the creators’ intent was or still is, the app has been churning out toxic byproducts in its process that need to be treated with caution.

I tried to understand my journey of using Instagram, while referring to online articles and research papers. The issues are extremely complex. Though a simpler systems view has been illustrated.

There are six major aspects which Instagram profits on; Isolation, Need for validation, Fear of missing out (FOMO), Insecurity, Lack of inter-personal interaction and social anxiety. There must be more, but these six have been prominently observed by me.

The more insecure we feel about ourselves, the more need for validation, and hence we will keep using Instagram. We keep improving our posts maybe. The number of likes will matter to us, that is the reward experience all Instagram user thrives on.

FIG 1. Insecurity loop

FOMO or ‘Fear of missing out’ gives rise to temptation for using Instagram frequently, however when we use Instagram our FOMO can reduce temporarily, but it also intensifies our isolation by curtailing the inter-personal interactions with our friends. The intensified feeling of isolation not only causes FOMO but also makes us more tempted to go back on Instagram, further affecting our inter-personal interactions negatively. Sometimes, Instagram usage makes us feel less isolated temporarily. But is it worth it?

FIG 2. FOMO loop

Excess Instagram usage not only can make us feel isolated and insecure, but also socially anxious. Increase in social anxiety can lead to yet again affect our inter-personal interactions negatively. When we try to quit Instagram, we start feeling left out and soon we get back on it.

FIG 3. Isolation loop

There are deeper psycho-social factors that can emerge out of the above mentioned. Maybe not everyone is getting affected on this scale, maybe some factors are more prominent for you and some don’t even exist. Example, Inter-personal interactions can be subjective to the person’s ability to interact physically. But, we need to be aware and find out how to deal with these byproducts and not let them emotionally distress us.

FIG 4. Overall systems loop

For many individuals quitting Instagram might not be possible as of now, but being aware of how it may be affecting you, can help you reduce its power over your emotions.