A couple of months earlier this year, the Times of India reported that two young boys in India were accused of killing a 31-year-old woman while riding a bike while filming Instagram Reels. Another story, featured by Express.co.uk, reported that a young lady from Congo. 16 years old, strangled to death while participating in the Tiktok surf game challenge on Instagram Live.
These two unfortunate incidents are alarming examples of how the young generation goes through a great deal of pressure to be constantly presentable and popular on social media platforms. The issue isn’t just the people who are following Instagram Reels trends. It’s also about individuals who are watching this content repeatedly and growing weary of the never-ending lingo used on social media.
The results are despair, low self-esteem, and distraction.
Impact of Instagram Reels on Mental Health
According to a study “Does Smartphone Addiction, Social Media Addiction, and/or Internet Game Addiction Affect Adolescents’ Interpersonal Interactions?” by Yang et al., published in the MDPI Open Access Journal, wide-spread use of multi-functional smartphones has increased screen time and decreased real-life interpersonal interactions.
Due to the excessive use of smartphones, adolescents and young adults waste a significant amount of time staring at screens, resulting in negligible face-to-face interactions. They mostly have reel friends rather than real friends, making them suffer from social disconnectedness. The dearth of real friends compels them to follow Instagram Reels trends, get virtual attention and popularity, and engage in others’ reels.
Another paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health emphasized the fear of missing out (FOMO), as a vital factor behind their inclination towards reels. A constant phobia of falling behind the current trend drives the young generation to make captivating reels. The consequences of this are such tragic incidents.
Reports published by Social Media and Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory in 2023 highlighted the influence of social media on the mental health of youth. The report said that the impact of social media on mental health is shaped by several complex factors, including but not limited to the total amount of time spent on these platforms, the type of content they consume or are exposed to, the interactions and activities social media affords, the sleep cycle, and physical activity. It is important to note that social media affects adolescents differently based on their individual strengths and vulnerabilities and also based on their socio-economic backgrounds.
One of the vital stages of brain development occurs between 10-19 years old. During this age, risk behaviors increase, and well-being experiences fluctuate. Also, mental health issues like depression emerge. Frequent use of social media is associated with distinct changes in the amygdala (important for emotional learning and behavior) and prefrontal cortex of the brain (used for impulse control, moderating social behavior, and emotional regulation). As a consequence, adolescents might experience heightened emotional sensitivity to communication, a decrease in life satisfaction, and the subsequent development of depression.
A longitudinal cohort study conducted by Riehm et al. in 2019 over U.S. adolescents aged 12 to 15 years showed that spending more than 3 hours on social media doubles the risk of developing depression and anxiety. Another study conducted by Braghieri et al. in 2022 with US college students also showed a significant increase in depression symptoms upon the introduction of social media platforms.
Distribution of Instagram users worldwide as of January 2023, by age group
Cutting back on the use of social media is the only way to escape from this vicious cycle of Instagram Reels. Allcott et al. 2020 study showed that the deactivation of social media for four weeks improved the subjective well-being of the participants. They recommended further group-based training and other psychological interventions to improve the mental health condition.
In the United States, nearly all teenagers and young adults are on social media, yet there isn’t enough evidence about how seriously social media affects mental health. These young people have, unknowingly, made themselves the subjects of decades-long experiments. Therefore, it is crucial for the researcher to conduct further investigations to study the influence of social media on the development of depression and formulate measures to prevent it.
What are Reels? Reels are basically small video clips on social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. Initially, the maximum runtime of the reels was 30 seconds, which was later extended to 90 seconds. Instagram Chief, Adam Mosse, in his latest article, responded to the illusive ranking algorithm of Instagram. According to Mosseri, last year, the platform emphasized the reach of Instagram Reels over traditional photos. Currently, the company is trying to re-establish a fair balance between the reach of both the pictures and reels. However, the damage has already been done, and a significant percentage of young adults are now reel-addicted. According to the reports published by Statista, India and the United States have the largest Instagram users, with nearly 330 million and 143 million, respectively. A vast majority of the users are 18 to 34 years old.
Factors influencing Instagram reel usage A study published in Telematics and Informatics Reports highlighted seven different motivational factors behind the usage of Instagram reels. These seven motivational factors include self-promotion, social rewards, escape from reality, entertainment, surveillance over others, documentation of self-achievements, novelty, and staying active to trends. Narcissists exhibit higher usage of Instagram Reels trends for socially rewarding self-promotion and entertainment purposes, whereas escapist users showcase higher consumption along with participation behavior. Entertainment seekers produce more videos for self-entertainment.
The Verge. (2022). Instagram showed people too many videos last year, admits Adam Mosseri. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2023/1/20/23564321/instagram-reels-photos-adam-mosseri-too-many-videos
Statista. (2023). Instagram – Statistics & Facts. Available at: Instagram – Statistics & Facts | Statista
Yang, S. Y., Wang, Y. C., Lee, Y. C., Lin, Y. L., Hsieh, P. L., & Lin, P. H. (2022, May). Does smartphone addiction, social media addiction, and/or internet game addiction affect adolescents’ interpersonal interactions? In Healthcare (Vol. 10, No. 5, p. 963). MDPI. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare10050963
Koinig, I. (2022). Picturing Mental Health on Instagram: Insights from a Quantitative Study Using Different Content Formats. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3), 1608. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19031608
The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory. (2023). Social Media and Youth Mental Health. Available at: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/sg-youth-mental-health-social-media-advisory.pdf
Fuhrmann, D., Knoll, L. J., & Blakemore, S. J. (2015). Adolescence as a Sensitive Period of Brain Development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(10), 558–566. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. tics.2015.07.008
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). (2019). The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25388
Orben, A., Przybylski, A. K., Blakemore, S. J., & Kievit, R. A. (2022). Windows of developmental sensitivity to social media. Nature Communications, 13(1), 1649. https://doi.org/10.1038/ s41467-022-29296-3 18.
Riehm, K. E., Feder, K. A., Tormohlen, K. N., Crum, R. M., Young, A. S., Green, K. M., Pacek, L. R., La Flair, L. N., & Mojtabai, R. (2019). Associations Between Time Spent Using Social Media and Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among US Youth. JAMA Psychiatry, 76(12), 1266–1273. https://doi.org/10.1001/ jamapsychiatry.2019.2325
Braghieri, L., Levy, R., & Makarin, A. (2022). Social Media and Mental Health. American Economic Review, 112(11), 3660-3693. https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/abs/10.1257/aer.20211218
Allcott, H., Braghieri, L., Eichmeyer, S., & Gentzkow, M. (2020). The Welfare Effects of Social Media. American Economic Review, 110(3), 10.1257/aer.20190658
The Time of India. (2023, March). Duo recording Insta reel on motorcycle ends up killing woman. Available at: Duo recording Insta reel on motorcycle ends up killing woman in Maharashtra | Pune News – Times of India (indiatimes.com)
Express UK. (2023, June). 16-year-old girl dies attempting TikTok ‘scarf game’ challenge. Available at: 16-year-old girl dies attempting TikTok ‘scarf game’ challenge | World | News | Express.co.uk