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The Effects of Social Media Algorithms on Mental Health: A Case Study of Instagram's "Explore" Page



With over one billion monthly active users, Instagram has become an integral part of our daily lives (Clement, 2021). However, research shows that excessive social media use can negatively impact mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem (Keles et al., 2020). One aspect of social media with significant implications for mental health is the algorithm that determines what content users see. This blog post will explore how social media algorithms can affect mental health. We will use Instagram's "Explore" page as a case study and provide practical strategies to counteract these adverse effects.


The Algorithm Behind Instagram's "Explore" Page

The "Explore" page is a feature that displays content that the algorithm believes users will be interested in based on their previous platform behaviour. The algorithm is influenced by factors such as search history, liked and commented content, and followed accounts. The "Explore" page aims to keep users on the platform for extended periods by displaying content they are more likely to interact with. While the "Explore" page can help users discover new interests, connect with others who share their interests, and find inspiration from various sources, it also raises concerns about its potential impact on mental health. Instagram has made efforts in recent years to address these concerns, such as removing the public display of "likes" on posts to reduce social comparison and improve user well-being.


The Negative Effects of the "Explore" Page on Mental Health

The algorithm is designed to prioritize content with high engagement rates, such as posts with numerous likes and comments. As a result, users are more likely to see highly curated and stylized content featuring attractive people, luxurious lifestyles, and exotic travel destinations. However, research has shown that continuous exposure to idealized images can lead to social comparison, causing feelings of inadequacy and FOMO (fear of missing out) and even contributing to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders (Fardouly et al., 2018).

Moreover, the constant influx of new content and the "infinite scroll" feature can lead to compulsive checking and an addiction-like relationship with social media, further exacerbating feelings of anxiety and depression (Kuss & Griffiths, 2017).



The Importance of Being Mindful of Social Media Use

Instagram isn't the only social media platform whose algorithms have been shown to negatively impact users' mental health. Social media algorithms that favour trending posts can give users a similar sense of inadequacy and anxiety as unpopular posts. Here are some suggestions for encouraging more responsible behaviour when using social media:

  1. Restriction of time: Manage the time spent on social media sites with the help of the device's built-in screen time features or external apps.

  2. Take a break from your devices: Remove yourself from social media for short periods of time to recharge and reconnect with the real world.

  3. Prioritize building meaningful relationships: Instead of just reading articles on social media, try interacting with other people and expanding your circle of real friends.

  4. Modify your "Explore" page to your liking: Unfollow any accounts that make you feel down and instead look for ones that uplift you.

  5. Utilize platform tools and resources: Instagram offers mental health support resources and allows users to restrict certain content on their "Explore" page.

  6. Practice mindfulness and self-compassion: Be kind to yourself when you're feeling down, and train yourself to be mindful of the emotions social media makes you feel.

Although the ways in which social media algorithms can affect our mental health are multifaceted, it is clear that they can have serious consequences for our happiness. Features like Instagram's "Explore" page are meant to keep us entertained and engaged, but they can also lead to negative emotions like anxiety, low self-esteem, and the fear of missing out (FOMO). It's critical that we recognise the risks to our mental health posed by social media use and take precautions against them. Examine your relationship with social media and think about making changes if you want to improve it. We can lessen the negative effects of social media algorithms and foster a more balanced and positive online experience by instituting time limits, participating in digital detoxes, concentrating on meaningful connections, personalising your "Explore" page, making use of platform tools and resources, and practising mindfulness and self-compassion. Until next time, Bubble bot out>

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