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Publicly Flagging Edited Instagram Photos Won't Help Anyone's Mental Health

The suggestions from a recent report are missing the forest for the trees.
Kylie Jenner/Instagram

You may have read that Instagram is the worst app for your mental health, but the app itself is not the problem. If only it were that simple.

For a recent


, the Royal Society for Public Health surveyed nearly 1,500 people ages 14 to 24 in the UK about how social media platforms affected 14 health- and wellbeing- related


, including anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-expression, body image, emotional support, and real-world


a net positive impact, while Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram were all negative.

Instagram was determined to be the most detrimental platform, most notably among young women. The photo-centric app can lead women to "compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered, and Photoshopped versions of reality," Matt Keracher of the RSPH told CNN. Instagram negatively affected respondents' body image the most, second only to Facebook, and it's no wonder as it's the platform of choice for gym selfies, fit tea promos, and extremely casual bikini pics. Snapchat has filters, too, but that app is less about highly staged photos and the number of likes and comments to be collected on them (looking at you, Instagram). And you can't upload a Photoshopped pic to Snapchat.

Royal Society for Public Health

The authors of the report called for all apps to implement pop-up warnings about heavy usage (which has been linked to poorer mental health), identify users who might have mental health problems and privately offer support, and add warnings on photos that have been digitally manipulated. All of this sounds nice in theory, but it's not going to do squat. My fitness tracker tells me to get up once an hour during the workday and I usually ignore it. What's a little icon on an altered photo going to achieve if only certain brands and celebs opt into it? Will people assume that any photo without the icon is unadulterated? (Isn't that what #nofilter is for?) And what's the point if you can't see the original a la a magazine Photoshop fail?


Sir Simon Wessely, president of the UK's Royal College of Psychiatrists, agreed with the authors that social media isn't all bad—in fact, Instagram was rated positively for self-expression and self-identity (see graphic above)—but he said the recommendations were missing the forest for the trees. "We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media—good and bad—to prepare them for an increasingly digitized world," he told CNN. "There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message."

Of course it's the message that's the problem. Our lives don't only consist of the moments and angles deemed worthy of sharing, with 15 hashtags for good measure. If the recent Bow Wow Challenge is any indication, even celebrities want to make their lives seem more fabulous than they really are. Non-envied lives and bodies can become a source of shame: Lots of teens (and adults!) delete photos if they don't get enough likes. Instagram likes are so valuable that there's a strategy to get more of them using cryptic comments on celebrities' posts or creating "pods" of like-minded users to boost engagement.

A better solution to the problem of Instagram making people feel like shit is for people to post more real, everyday shit. Consider that the next time you take and delete 12 selfies before sharing one.

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