I provided the original Instagram FAQ. Information in demand was missing from the internet and I enjoy researching technology and helping people. I wrote two posts in 2011 and 2012 about Instagram privacy which still rank in Google’s top 10 search results for related terms.
Six years and 700+ comments later, here’s what I’ve learned about human frailty, desire, shame, and searching.
In 2011, Instagram was growing in popularity but lacked a formal FAQ. Users desperately sought information about whether their accidental photo likes would be visible to their exes and frenemies.
I’ve answered hundreds of questions in the comments and continue to receive more each week. After six years of fielding queries about Instagram profile privacy, blocking, hiding likes, push notifications, and whether video views are public, I have concluded that we waste far too much time worrying about the visibility of our activity. We feel unnecessary shame. We want to hide what we consider shameful: voyeurism, the masochism of cyber stalking an ex, or simply our fascination with others’ lives. These are timeless human behaviors that have adapted to the available means. Look at songs like Don’t Come Around Here No More and On Every Street. Everyone can relate to these lyrics. Songs like these play in my head as I read through the comments on my Instagram posts. We’re nostalgic, we’re sentimental, we seek information and updates on lost loves, lost friends, lost places.
It’s clear that we use social media for many reasons. One is to satisfy our hunger for connection and validation. We do this less and less in person and increasingly online. So much is lost in this digital version of interacting.
I’ve seen the fear of being found out for behaviors that are common and understandable. We have been given tools to passively, secretly watch the highlight reels of each others’ lives. So naturally we watch. And we slip and click and immediately feel ashamed and self-conscious, exposed for engaging in the very behaviors that the creators of these apps and our fellow users expect and encourage.
Tom Petty asked his ex to “stop walking down my street”. She probably wouldn’t want to be seen but couldn’t help herself. Now she’d be embarrassed to be caught accidentally liking his two-year old photo. Mark Knopfler uses the metaphor of a detective looking for a missing person when writing about an ex he just can’t forget. Ani DiFranco captures the same sentiment in Gravel, still under her ex’s spell. We keep holding on to each other, to memories, to old flames, to friendships that dried up, and to places we’ve left behind. We seek connection and belonging, and we cling to the moments when we felt it. But we’re looking somewhere that can never meet our needs.