Every day, I open up my phone and stare at photos from the lives of people I hardly know until I start to feel bad about myself. That’s because I use Instagram, the highly addictive photo-sharing app founded 10 years ago today.
Facebook gets a lot of flack for propagating disinformation and collecting highly personal information about its users. But Instagram, which Facebook owns, is the same beast in a different disguise. The Instagram algorithm feeds me stories and posts from the users whose accounts I interact with most often; when I hate-stalk college acquaintances who live in mansions or flout social distancing guidelines, the app remembers, and provides me with the content I loathe. It knows my location and my browser history and hits me with targeted ads that are eerily close to things I might actually want to buy. And I, along with everyone else I know, submit to all of this because otherwise I might miss out on a really good meme.
It will be interesting to see how social media winds up affecting this election. I think one of the ways Instagram manages to retain its good graces is that it seems to be less a cesspool of mis- and disinformation than a resource for socially conscious young people to engage with activism—even if only superficially. I see countless reminders to register to vote on people’s Instagram stories every day. The question is whether it’ll make a difference.
Enjoy the rest of your afternoon. And follow Mother Jones on Instagram while you’re at it.
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