Journey into Media App Review: Instagram

Instagram burst onto the scene in 2010.  It rapidly gained popularity and boasted 1 million registered users in the first 2 months.  It has since become one of the most used social media apps in the world with subscriber numbers rivaling those of Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.  It has since been purchased by Facebook in 2012.  It has become vastly popular with teens and continues to attract new users all the time.  The photo-sharing app allows users to post photos, apply various filters and even use geotags to organize and categorize their photos.  Photos can also be organized and tracked using hashtags which help users find and take part in common themes.  I signed up last year but did not use it as much as I thought I would.  Over the course of the past few months, I have been exploring the features of this app as well as conducting student interviews.  I have come to appreciate the simplicity of the app as compared to something like Facebook as it allows you to focus on photos as opposed to filtering through loads of comments and text.

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Features

The more recent addition of the ability to post short videos in a feature called stories has been a welcome addition and has been used widely by teens and adults alike.  In fact, over 250 million people use the feature daily.  The stories feature in itself has been one of the most successful additions to a social media app in recent years and functions much like Snapchat.  The feature allows you to build a story as a collection of photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours.  Along with adding filters to photos and video, there are a whole host of other options available as well.  Drawing or adding text to pictures or videos allows for some customization.  An algorithm dictates which avatars pop up first in your feed and you can scroll through their content from left to right.  Experts have hinted that other features such as geofilters, face filters, etc which are very popular right now may be added in the near future.

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Terms of Service 

In the exploration of the Terms of Service for this app, there are several important pieces of information that both students and teachers should keep in mind when considering the use of this app.  Firstly, students must be 13 years of age or older to use the app.  This is on par with most other social media apps in this category although it does not prevent children younger than 13 from using it.  There is also a strict policy against sexually explicit images, violence, hateful or pornographic photos.  The result of these actions could warrant further action taken by the company.  The other interesting term involves the responsibility of users for the content that appears on their account.  In essence, this means that even if someone borrowed your phone and posted inappropriate photos, you are the one responsible.  This is certainly an instance where digital literacy will come into play as students must be sure that precautions are taken with passwords, etc. The terms also state that “you must not defame, stalk, bully, abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate people or entities.”  This is important language for students to understand but unfortunately, there is at best little the company can do about these kinds of abuses.  Reporting them may shut down the account but people will always find a way back in.

Student Perspectives

When asked about Instagram students had this to say,

Mr. Braun: “Is Instagram an app that you use often?”

Student: “Instagram is the first app I open when I wake up in the morning”

Mr. Braun: “What do you enjoy about the app?”

Student: “It’s a great way to connect and meet new people.  I love using the explore feed”

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Mr. Braun: “Do you use the messenger part of the app to communicate with friends?”

Student: “I don’t do much commenting but I love sending and receiving photos/memes.  I think kids just like communicating through photos”

” I like finding relatable content while exploring Instagram and then sharing with my friends”

Mr. Braun: Do you find that there is often inappropriate content in the app?

Student: “There is always going to be inappropriate/racist/sexist content on Instagram.  You just have to be sure to ignore it because Instagram will show you more of what you like.”

Mr. Braun: Do you use a finsta or Spam account?

Student: “I use a spam (finsta) account for posting the majority of my content.  I have lower numbers of followers on my spam.  I use my main account for browsing content and my spam account is for posting and communicating with friends.”

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Concerns

As with any social media app or online platform, there will be those that abuse their privilege.  There is nothing inherently dangerous about the app itself.  It is attractive to teens because the app caters to mixed media communication which is how today’s youth interact with one another.  However, there are things to be aware of.  The first concern that I came across with the use of this app is that like, snapchat, the interface is designed to keep you scrolling and hitting that like button.  The powerful algorithm used to determine what shows up on your feed is designed with a purpose.  It will show you more of what you like and less of what you don’t like.  This could potentially lead to inappropriate videos/photos being shared with or by students.  Knowing how to have conversations with youth about how and why they share is crucial in addressing these concerns.  This parent guide to Instagram gives a good overview of potential risks and how to avoid them.  For instance, many students may not know that the default setting for sharing content is always public.  There are also tips and tricks included for reporting abuse and blocking users.  Another concern that is sometimes discussed alongside Instagram is its addictive nature.

Mental health concerns surrounding this app have been discussed for some time now but it is something to take into consideration when discussing social media with students.  Many students have reported feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, or depression associated with this app.  As stated in the article above, some experts suggest pop-ups which would warn users of overuse. The drive to continue to check your likes and shares for certain photos even sees some young people deleting photos that don’t receive many likes.  Some also draw attention to the fact that due to the filters and editing tools built into the app, it is a distortion of reality.  Others claim that the app causes a fear of missing out and that users struggle to be present in the moment.  However, in all of this, we have to remember as well that the technology is used by people!  Therefore, it is crucial that educators teach digital citizenship.

Overall Review

Instagram is a great way to connect with others and share important moments with friends and family.  In using the app over the past few months, I have come to appreciate the ways in which youth communicate through media.  I believe the app also has potential to be used to some extent in the classroom perhaps as a photo journal of what learning is occurring.  While it remains immensely important to have honest and open discussions about how and why we share using the app.  In considering the use of the app for a health/wellness intention, I believe that it could prove useful as a photo slideshow or journal of what students are doing in class.  It could also be used as a broadcast app for the teachers to demonstrate skills via video in order to have students practice.  However, due to it’s addictive and at times damaging nature, overall I give this app 3 out of 5 Luke Heads.

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