Stories from Healthy Mind

The Little-Known Instagram Tweak That’s Basically a Double-Tap for Your Mental Health

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsApril 4, 2019

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In a definitive ranking of habits that most benefit my mental health, scrolling through Instagram would come in dead last. I can’t recall a time I actually felt joy post-appsturbation, and yet, the social media platform’s built-in activity monitor tells me I spend an average of 32 minutes each day idly liking handstand videos, quasi-inspirational quotes, and color-coordinated stacks of books. My digital relationship is far from perfect, but lately, I’ve found one small way to reclaim the habit for myself: interacting with the ads rather than swiping past them at warp speed.

I know, I know—sounds bananas. But I have a thesis statement and everything, so please allow me to present my unofficial TED Talk about reclaiming targeted ads to bolster digital autonomy.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that Instagram’s new M.O. involves placing an ad between every two or three posts on your feed. According to The New York Times, the platform first announced its plans to commercialize feeds back in 2015, but based on my personal non-scientific experience, the promos have hit an all time high in just the last few months. I mean, I can’t even read about my favorite foodstagramer’s buckwheat waffle recipe without also having earrings, a crystal-shaped water bottle, and hair-growth vitamins clogging up my scroll.

So a few week’s ago, when Instagram’s algorithm dared to slide a $1200 gym bag (something I personally have never dreamed of affording) into my social check-in, I decided on a whim to click the “…” button in the top right corner of the ad. Putting my communications major to good use, I combed through Instagram’s terms of service. (Fun!) Within minutes, I found that, 1. Users totally have the power to remove ads (such as beautiful but unattainable locker-room gear), and 2. Once you click the “hide ad” option, you can also tell Instagram exactly why that ad isn’t working for you.

Or, in the official technical jargon: “We want to show you ads from business that are interesting and relevant to you, and to do that, we use information about what you do on Instagram and Facebook (our parent company) and on third-party sites and apps,” reads the on-app “About Ads” material. If you so desire, you can restrict Instagram from scouring some of your data using your iOS and and Facebook settings. But if its still blowing up your normally scheduled scrolling routine with things that just aren’t relevant to you, tell Insta. It’s your right as a scroller.

The change won’t magically heal your relationship with likes, favorites, or other draining aspects of 21st-century communication, but if I’m going to be on social media, I might as well do my best to curate my feed the way I would my closet, bookshelf, or refrigerator. That is, with the utmost care for what makes me happy—and also what doesn’t.

One writer found happiness by deleting Instagram altogether. And yet another overhauled her relationship with the platform to promote better mental health.

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