Instagram is making you a better friend IRL

Considered the killer of face-to-face interaction, it turns out that IG is actually widening our friend groups in the real world too.
Girls gather round a phone, a still from Skate Kitchen
Skate Kitchen (Modern Films)

Instagram has become a prime scapegoat for Generation Z’s problems, particularly in the eyes older people. The perfect microcosm of modern narcissism, it’s seen as an app that exacerbates all of our insecurities or masterfully (read: damagingly) covers them up. But could it actually hold the key to restoring how we interact in the real world?

Maybe! A new US study of 671 young people of college age has found that their loyalty to Instagram has led them to use it as a platform to express themselves more honestly. In turn, that’s translated into these same people cultivating meaningful relationships in the real world too.


Conducted by the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, the study aimed to dissect self-presentation on Instagram and how it helped users develop friendships. It found that those fleeting first ice-breaking interactions -- things like friendly DM slides and liking each other’s photos -- don’t get lost in the ether. Instead, they lead to us speaking on a closer level, eventually causing us to see them as friends outside of the photo-sharing platform too.

The survey found that it’s especially useful for those who are perhaps too introverted to make friends in real life social situations, lessening the blow of those often uncomfortable first conversations by conducting them in a space where we have time to think about our responses. Speaking to Forbes, the paper’s co-author Associate Professor Porismita Borah said "Instagram is such a visually rich platform, and that really helps in self-presentation”.

There’s also that important factor of distance. Any small town kid whose adolescence was shaped by the mates we met on Tumblr will understand how valuable something like social media can be when it comes to finding people we get along with. Fair fucks, it’s easy to argue that we should be out in public, meeting friends in more ‘traditional’ ways, but for those who are cut off from others like them, the choice just isn’t there. We’ve also spent so much time on these platforms now that our language as people and through computers is almost one and the same; it makes sense that friendships that start in one situation can seamlessly slip into the other.

“Our findings are optimistic,” the study’s lead author Danielle Lee told Forbes, “that self-disclosure on Instagram could facilitate friendship development, even if followers were just casual acquaintances at the start."

In a time when social media is often painted as a hateful, unhealthy place, studies like this -- that affirm what Gen Z already knows -- are encouraging. Now, we can go forth knowing that time spent glued to our phones is actually doing good things to us too.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.