Social media networks can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, isolation, and dissatisfaction, according to a study conducted by Stanford University. Other research focused on teen depression points out that negative experiences on websites like Facebook can lead to "profound psychosocial outcomes." Social media's been linked to envy, resentment, and the pervasive sense that your life is a giant steaming pile of 3 a.m. cat barf compared to the happy people around you.
As if all that's not bad enough, there's one photo-focused social media platform that's been called out as being more psychologically damaging than all the others -- and I'm betting there's a good chance you've used it in the last day or two.
Mirror, mirror on the wall ... who's the most depressing social media network of them all? Thanks to the fact that it's all about posting the Hallmark moments of our lives, the honor goes to Instagram.
That is, if you believe what Slate has to say about the subject. Basically, the theory is that Instagram takes the parts of Facebook that actually trigger those feelings of dissatisfaction and jealousy -- i.e. the photos of other people doing awesome things that we wish we were doing -- slaps a Valencia filter on them, and smugly publishes them for us to covet.
Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University Berlin, who co-authored a study on Facebook and envy, says:
You get more explicit and implicit cues of people being happy, rich, and successful from a photo than from a status update. A photo can very powerfully provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger feelings of inferiority. (...) If you see beautiful photos of your friend on Instagram, one way to compensate is to self-present with even better photos, and then your friend sees your photos and posts even better photos, and so on. Self-promotion triggers more self-promotion, and the world on social media gets further and further from reality.
Even though Instagram supposedly encourages us to spend enormous amounts of effort cropping and filtering out the less-than-savory aspects of our lives, the idea is that we tend to forget other people are doing the exact same thing -- sharing carefully-curated images that are but a single moment from a complicated day. Supposedly, we then get the impression that their lives are happier and more meaningful than ours.
Oh, and also, according to Slate, using Instagram to check out photos belonging to people we don't know well is turning us into creepy stalkers:
Arguably, you’ve violated the gray line of stalkerism simply by looking at those photos in the first place, even if you don’t reveal yourself in public as the sad lurker that you are. Each time you swipe through more images of people’s meals and soirees and renovation projects and holiday sunsets, you are potentially blurring the boundary between stranger-you-haven’t-met and sleazy voyeur skulking around the cabana with an iPhone.
Okay, okay, okay ... this is me frantically making a "T" sign with my hands because hi, CAN WE GET A TIME-OUT ON THIS INSANITY? I mean, seriously, do we really and truly not have enough actual problems in the world as it is? Does Instagram Depression HAVE to be a thing?
It's not that I don't understand Slate's point of view -- apparently Facebook depression is a real phenomenon, so it stands to reason Instagram must be upsetting for some people too. It's just that I can't wrap my head around the idea of getting that bitter over looking at other people's photos (or feeling like a stalker, for that matter). Sure, there have been times when I've thought something like, "Gosh, I wish *I* were on a cruise too," or whatever, but for the most part, I'm enormously cheered by the pictures I see from my friends' and acquaintances' lives.
Grinning babies with those adorably chubby rubber-band wrists! Turquoise waters from a beach I've never been to! Birthday celebrations, vacations, first days of school, beloved pets! That leaf pattern you see in every image of latte art ever! Okay not the last one -- seriously, stop with the coffee photos! -- but overall I find Instagram to be a pure delight.
Here's my thinking: for anyone who really is feeling low as the result of seeing other people's Instagram pictures, there's an easy trick to making yourself feel better: ONLY LOOK AT YOUR OWN PHOTOS or stop going on to Instagram altogether. It's a proven tactic for Facebook, so it can surely work for other social networks.
Alternately, put down the phone/computer and go outside. The world's tough enough at times without letting a few filtered images get you down. We may all have 99 problems, but Instagram shouldn't be one.
What do you think about the Instagram depression theory? Have you ever felt miserable from looking at other people's photos?
Image via Linda Sharps