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Instagram Data Policy: Content Customization Practices and the Use of Addiction Loop Model

In his book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier thoroughly discusses the detrimental effects of various social online platforms on human lives. Among them are the promotion of mass behaviors, increased incidence of misinformation and biasing, vanity encouragement, reduction of one’s ability for empathy, and so forth. However, the present paper will focus on the following Lanier’s argument: when using social media websites, “you are losing your free will” (5).

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It happens due to personalization of content that starts with the collection of user information and proceeds to the filtering of information with the help of artificial intelligence algorithms. Secondly, social network developers create environments and various stimuli that make users repeatedly come back to their platforms and utilize them more frequently.

In my opinion, Lanier’s concerns regarding the loss of free will on social media are valid and, for this reason, I will aim to provide scholarly evidence and examples from personal experiences to support his stance. The paper will focus on Instagram, its content customization practices, and the use of addiction loop model in order to foster greater website activity.

Nowadays, Instagram is one of the most popular social networking apps that allows sharing photos and videos freely. As stated by Marr, it has a profile of 800 million active monthly users and, every day, people post about 70 million pictures there. It is clear that with such a large user base, Instagram produces and gets access to an enormous pool of data, which is currently and efficiently implemented by marketers and various businesses to research consumer behaviors and promote various products and services.

Nevertheless, while users willingly share photos and videos on their Instagram pages, they may be not entirely aware that the app collects a lot of other types of data about them as well. For instance, according to Instagram data policy, it has access to information about device attributes (namely, operating systems, browsers, and so forth), performed device operations, device identifiers, settings and signals (including GPS and other installed apps) (Instagram Inc.). Moreover, Instagram knows about users’ network and connections and cookie data (Instagram Inc.). It means that by using Instagram, a person provides it with information regarding a full spectrum of their online and offline activities.

An observable objective for attaining which the app utilizes the collected user data is content individualization. As I frequently noticed when browsing my Instagram feed and suggestions, posts presented there include either a new content generated by users whom I liked a relatively short time ago or similar photographs and videos. Additionally, I see posts associated with subjects and themes that I recently browsed elsewhere, for instance, on Google.

As Lanier states, corporations owning online networks implement various algorithms to present individuals with information and advertising messages that they are likely to respond to positively and that corresponds with their current interests (6). Thus, it is clear that the major purpose of content customization is to engage users in social media activity more and the underlying reason for that is an opportunity to generate greater profits by stimulating attention to certain products and services.

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One of the major ethical concerns related to content individualization is the creation of so-called filter bubbles. Businesses promote the idea about the benefits of personalization, including the elimination of a need for users to see through irrelevant ads and promotion messages. However, algorithm-induced filter bubbles significantly decrease the variety of information to which a user may be exposed. According to Tamturk, even if brands, marketers, and social media corporations do not have a deliberate intention to strictly control one’s exposure to promotional content, the described phenomenon provokes a risk of narrowing people’s minds.

In other words, in filter bubbles, individuals are easily presented with almost all the information they may need at the moment. They naturally become readily attracted to the presented content and, as a result, the necessity for exploring something different and new diminishes.

Another significant ethical concern related to both content personalization and user engagement through social valuation is addiction development. Lanier discusses this problem in depth in his book and notes that the implementation of a social-validation feedback loop is a method for exploiting psychological vulnerabilities inherent in all humans (8). When a person receives a like or reads a positive comment under his or her photograph on Instagram, the brain starts producing dopamine.

After a few repetitions of such a stimulus-effect mechanism, that person is likely to start craving favorable emotions linked to social feedback on social media. As a consequence, the user commences posting more, which indicates the development of a new automatic behavior or a habit (Lainer 11). The carrot-and-stick approach is a common motivational method yet since the strategy utilized by the social media creators involves psychological and even chemical processes similar to those that can be observed in substance abusers, we may talk about social media addiction.

Like the majority of other users, I show some symptoms of the adverse condition described above. In total, I may spend about an hour or slightly more on Instagram each day and I go online at random time. I frequently check my page and feed in order to distract myself from some serious work and usually quit after five-fifteen minutes of surfing. Nevertheless, whenever I go online during spare time, I sometimes tend to scroll through content for a longer time (sometimes for about an hour).

Moreover, the frequency of visiting also always increases within a few days after posting something new as I expect to see comments and respond to them. I do communicate via Instagram yet the main interest for using it is the access to photos and other visual materials created by talented artists although a larger portion of the content I see there does not hit the mark.

In this way, I can say that the trigger of my habit of Instagram visiting is either boredom or a necessity for relaxation, entertainment, and satisfaction of esthetic needs. Additionally, the habit of posting is triggered mainly by the need for appreciation and socialization. At the same time, an expected reward of engaging in both of the routines – posting and just visiting – is a sense of psychological and emotional comfort, as well as a chance to have a short distraction. Therefore, it is valid to conclude in regards of the theme of the present paper that social media manipulates my behaviors, firstly, by providing an opportunity for psychological relief and, secondly, by creating a sense of interconnectedness with people whom I know and whom I am interested in.

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While these manipulations may seem innocent at first sight, excessive indulgence in social media use may have detrimental effects on productivity and self-esteem. It is also evident that without a more critical evaluation of content one is presented with on Instagram, a person may face the risk of forming a limited, biased, and mainstreamed picture of the world and lose their individuality by complying with accepted norms of representing themselves and their experiences on social media. Thus, some behavioral changes and critical assessment of one’s motivations and activities on Instagram are essential.

In my case, the best possible behavioral modification is the substitution of social media surfing by other activities that could fulfill my needs for brief relaxation, esthetic pleasure, socialization, and psychological comfort. For instance, instead of searching through random pictures in the app, I could read books on art and learn about the subject through many other online and offline media. I could communicate with close friends and relatives more instead of posting a photo and waiting for appreciation of those whom I do not know very well. Lastly, in order to distract myself from work or studying, I could try some relaxation techniques, such as mediation, or even do some physical exercises that can help reduce excess stress and give energy for continuing any important endeavor.

Overall, social media have their own culture that imposes its values on users and significantly influences their behaviors. Unfortunately, such platforms as Instagram induce the creation of multiple bad habits and can have negative effects on personal development. While it is possible to reduce the risks associated with filter bubbles by revoking the use of personalization algorithms and limiting the companies’ access to users’ personal data, there is a small chance that people will use social media less in case the social-validation system would be canceled as well. People will still continue using Instagram for socialization and entertainment.

However, the enhancement in content quality would make some difference. Instead of encouraging the posting of selfies and unnecessary pictures of random things from daily life, users could be stimulated to share some educational, artistic, and other types of content with similar functions and purposes in order to increase the value of social media as such and make their use more meaningful.

Works Cited

Instagram Inc. “Data Policy.” Instagram, 2019. Web.

Lanier, Jaron. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Picador, 2018.

Marr, Bernard. “The Amazing Ways Instagram Uses Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.Forbes. 2018.

Tamturk, Venus. “What If Personalization Traps Us into a ‘Filter Bubble’?CMSC Media. 2018.

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