Instagram is a Safe Haven, And It’s Not Just Because of Pretty Pictures
So true. I need your landscapes & baby pics in a real way right now. https://t.co/2JEGwfw468
— Fatemeh Fakhraie (@digitalfatemeh) February 2, 2017
As we move into 2017, I have taken stock of my online presence. As a result, I have taken a tweeting hiatus, delegating myself to lurker status and only sharing articles I’ve written or edited. I’ve also removed Facebook from my iPhone in an attempt to cut down on the number of distractions I face day-to-day while working.
But where Twitter and Facebook left a void, Instagram has come to replace it. Prior to the past six months, my interest in Instagram was passive at best. I mainly had an account out of expectation.
But as Trump, the hard left, and the hard right have increasingly dominated my timelines on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram has served as sort of my online refuge. Or in the words of Owen:
instagram is beautiful bliss right now, it's like the outside world doesn't even exist over there
— Owen ⚡️ (@ow) January 27, 2017
Why Is Instagram a Digital Safe Haven? It’s the Design
According to The Verge, the reason why Instagram acts as a safe haven is due to its “adversity to conflict.”
“The app is centered around liking and striving to be liked,” wrote The Verge. “And because Instagram relies almost solely on pictures, with text being secondary if not wholly irrelevant, the app guides us toward pleasing, well-shot, and fancifully edited moments.”
While I think this plays a factor in limiting the amount of reactionary political content we see, this doesn’t fully explain the oasis that Instagram has created for its users. After all, Tumblr is also known as a place where photos and GIFs are shared galore. Yet Tumblr struggles with its seedy underbelly and hard, incendiary political discourse just as much as Facebook and Twitter (if not more).
So what does explain Instagram’s status as a digital safe haven? Here are a few possible reasons.
1. Instagram Has No Desktop App
Instagram is unique amongst all other major social services: it has no productive usage on your desktop, and it doesn’t appear it ever will. Mobile is your only real avenue to post on Instagram. (Yes, there are ways to do so from your desktop using tools like Buffer. But your Mom isn’t using Buffer, so who cares.)
While I have no hard data to back this assumption up (hi, welcome to blogging), I do believe the lack of a desktop app has put a severe limiting factor on the amount of abuse any one person can deliver. At least in my personal experience, it is much easier to react quickly while I am at a desktop rather than a mobile device.
2. Instagram Doesn’t Live in the Past
There is actually a lot of political content that is posted on Instagram every day, including by your friends. But unlike Facebook and Twitter, it’s very easy to ignore. I believe that’s because there are no technical mechanisms in place that bubble back up old, potentially controversial content.
On Twitter, reminders of things that irritate you or that are political is just one RT away. And if that tweet goes viral, you can expect a good chunk of your followers to continue RT’ing others, consuming your whole day with commentary on Trump’s latest tweet.
On Facebook, the Edge algorithm essentially rewards quick reactions. The more attention a piece garners, the more comments it gets, and the more you see the latest political debate amongst family members and friends sit at the top of your timeline.
In contrast, Instagram doesn’t bring up old content. It’s not easy to reshare content to your timeline on Instagram, nor does Instagram rely on an algorithm to show people what you should be caring about. It’s a chronological feed, and your friends either see your latest post and react to it, or they don’t. In any case, Instagram is not going to show you old content, no matter how viral it gets.
3. Instagram Will Censor Whatever It Likes
Much like Facebook has created a culture of using your real name, and enforcing it pretty ruthlessly, Instagram has trained users over the years that it will remove whatever it likes, whenever it likes.
While there have been complaints about this policy from users, it is very rare to see Instagram caught up in the same censorship controversies that plague Facebook and Twitter.
And as large as Instagram is, I am sure this subtle signal helps curb the culture of immediate reaction that drives much of the traffic on other social networks.
Now, this is all completely conjecture. But thinking about how Instagram works today could lead to important insight on how to structure safe and productive social networks in the future.