The Unspoken Rules of Instagram (& What They Say About Society)

By: Jusleen Basra

Social media has been at the forefront of pop culture for over a decade. It has become so integrated into our everyday lives that it is no longer simply a fun way to keep in touch with friends, but also a factor in building and maintaining one’s social status. In many cases, one’s image online can influence their image in real life; just as maintaining good etiquette in our everyday lives helps us create a positive image for ourselves (ie. holding the door open for people, shaking hands when meeting someone new), maintaining good etiquette on social media platforms has the same effect. Here are some of the “unspoken rules” of one of the most popular social media platforms -- Instagram -- and what these rules say about our society.
**Disclaimer: This list is composed of ideas that a fairly large portion of social media users agree with, but that does not mean that everyone must agree with them. Please take these rules with a grain of salt, and enjoy!

If someone you know follows you, follow them back.
A follow on Instagram can be likened to a greeting: if you are greeted by an acquaintance, it is considered extremely rude not to acknowledge them. Similarly, if a familiar follows you on Instagram, it is expected that you follow them back, as a symbol of recognition. What this shows about our society is the need for acknowledgement and signs of both positivity and friendship. We’re a society that thrives off of relationships and healthy connections, and we therefore depend on each other for success and happiness.

The more followers, likes, and comments, the better.
One’s popularity on social media is often determined by the number of followers they have, and many social media users will go so far as to accept follow requests from accounts they are completely unfamiliar with -- simply to increase their follower count. This represents a ubiquitous need for approval in our society, as well as a sense of competition; people crave approbation, and they often feel the need to put themselves on-par with their peers in order to have a solid presence amongst them. It also alludes to a societal preference for sociability and extraversion: those that are associated with more people are viewed as socially superior.

Tag everyone in your photos.
Tagging is used to identify people in photographs with multiple individuals pictured. Social media users generally use the tagging feature to accomplish any of three things: acknowledge those in the photo, make it easier for those people to locate the post in their own accounts, and sometimes to advertise those people’s accounts. The general rule is that if you chose to tag anyone in a photograph, you must tag everyone. Excluding someone could be considered offensive, as you are refusing to acknowledge that person’s presence in the photograph, or their connection to you. This alludes to society’s emphasis on inclusion, and avoiding gestures that may ostracize individuals.

Do not like a picture that someone posted more than 2 weeks prior.
Aside from the excessive sharing that tends to occur on social media, the above rule shows that society still values privacy. Once a user posts a picture on Instagram, it stays in their account and becomes part of their feed, making those pictures available to their followers to peruse. If a user likes a picture on someone’s feed that was posted a few weeks (or more) prior, the account holder may feel as though they are being stalked, because it implies that the user was looking through all of their pictures without the account holder knowing. This proves that although we as a society are becoming more open to sharing aspects of our personal lives on platforms like Instagram, we still fear threats to our privacy.
Social media has clearly become a much more developed and integral aspect of our daily lives, and it has become increasingly difficult to remember what life was like without it. Interestingly, the youngest generation is being raised with the Internet and social media not as an asset in communication but as a moiety and undetachable part of life itself. So, as we adopt these platforms and fuse them further onto the fabric of our society, I hope that the benefits of communication that they bring are utilized in the best possible way.



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