With 170 million Americans using the app, the United States has one of the largest concentrations of Instagram users worldwide. But statistics show that the image-based social media app is also among the country’s least favorite.

A 2021 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that four in every ten Americans use Instagram. In a Backlinko global ranking of countries with the most monthly Instagram users, the U.S. landed in second place. Of U.S. users, 71% fall between ages 18 and 29.

Despite Instagram’s massive domestic market, research from VPNoverview finds the social media platform to be losing favor among American audiences. The 2023 study found more than one million monthly Google searches in the U.S. contained keywords related to deleting or deactivating Instagram.

The Rise of Instagram

Instagram was officially launched in October of 2010, and has amassed over two billion worldwide users. The platform allows users to share photos and videos while connecting with other accounts through likes, follows, and direct messages.

In 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram in a successful $1 billion deal. Business of Apps reports the platform generated over $51 billion in 2022, accounting for over 40% of Facebook’s total revenue. Of the over 170 million American users that access Instagram monthly, the majority range in age from 13 to 29, according to the Pew Research Center. In a 2022 survey of U.S. teens between 13 and 17, the Center found that 62% of respondents reported using Instagram.

Growing Resentment Towards Instagram

As the number of Instagram users worldwide has grown, so has criticism of the app. A 2023 Statista survey of American user satisfaction with different online platforms found Instagram ranked second to last out of eleven companies.

Concerns over increased usage of Instagram and other photo and video-sharing apps have grown in recent years. This frustration is mainly due to a growing body of research demonstrating social media platforms’ potentially harmful effects on mental health. Young people between the ages of 13 and 17, 8% of Instagram users worldwide, are especially vulnerable to these negative consequences.

Other common issues plaguing Instagram range from the prevalence of bot accounts to the spreading of false information, as well as concerns over personal information security. Many users are also dissatisfied that Instagram has begun promoting more advertisements and sponsored content.

“Instagram just isn’t fun anymore. I used to be able to connect with a community and share the things I love. It’s a struggle to reach anyone through Instagram, so it feels pointless,” says Megan Elliott, luxury travel blogger at Lush to Blush and member of the diverse travel blogger group Babes That Wander. “It’s all spammers and ads that push mindless spending—I clicked on an ad for Polene bags once, and now I’m getting inundated with them.”

Research on the harmful effects of social media in general on mental health has also emerged in recent years.

2019 study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture examined the relationship between Instagram use and different psychological behaviors. One hundred twenty-nine women aged 18 to 35 participated in the study, which found a direct correlation between time spent on Instagram and feelings of depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Women make up almost 57% of American Instagram users, according to The Social Shepherd.

The effects of frequent Instagram use by young people under 18 are also of particular concern. A 2023 Social Media and Youth Mental Health Advisory by the U.S. Surgeon General reveals that 95% of American youth between the ages of 13 and 17 report using some form of social media. Frequent use of Instagram and other social media platforms can significantly affect critical cognitive development during adolescence.

But experts say you can enjoy the app responsibly and minimize adverse effects. New research even shows that using social media platforms can benefit mental health.

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Instagram

The 2023 U.S. Surgeon General Advisory found that most young people surveyed felt social media gave them a sense of belonging and a space to be creative.

Similarly, a 2019 survey of over 1,000 participants revealed a positive correlation between social media use and feelings of connection with others. Engaging with Instagram and other apps in an intentional way allows users to capitalize on the positives of social media while minimizing adverse effects.

Limit Daily Usage

Experts agree one of the best ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with social media is by reducing overall scrolling time. A 2022 University of Manchester article suggests browsing social media for 30 minutes or less per day to improve mental health.

In a 2023 study, Iowa State University researchers found that college students who reduced social media usage to 30 minutes per day reported lower levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Be Intentional When Engaging with Accounts

Another critical factor in having a positive relationship with Instagram and other apps is to be intentional during engagements. The American Psychological Association says social comparison on Instagram leads to adverse outcomes like body image insecurity and eating disorders. To combat this negativity, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends unfollowing accounts that adversely affect self-esteem and confidence.

Specific demographics, like new mothers, are significantly affected by unrealistic ideals promoted by lifestyle and advice accounts. Kelsey Waddell, a writer for the parenting blog Stroller Envy, started using Instagram for tips and tricks on raising young children.

“After scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling, my feed, I never felt more confident in my parenting abilities,” she says. “Only more dejected and more certain that I’d never do things right.”

Once Kelsey realized that social media negatively impacted confidence in her parenting abilities, she took action. “I started by limiting my use of the app in my phone settings to 10 minutes a day, and I was shocked by how quickly my time was up,” she explains. “My next step was deleting it from my phone altogether.”

Balance Use with Offline Activities

Another concern of excessive Instagram and social media use is the replacement of in-person socialization with digital interactions. While worldwide engagement on social media can be beneficial, it shouldn’t completely replace real-life connections. HelpGuide encourages Instagram users to set aside regular times to meet friends or participate in activities.

Going offline and prioritizing in-person socialization also helps users stay more engaged and present in the moment. A study by Lee Health explains that using social media triggers a release of dopamine, “the feel good chemical,” in the brain, sometimes leading to addiction.

“As a travel blogger whose business relies on social media, sometimes Instagram takes me out of the present moment, and I’m always thinking about getting content or what I should post,” says Elise Armitage, founder of travel and lifestyle blog What the Fab. “If I’m packing my luggage for an exciting trip, I think, ‘should I post an Instagram story of this to tease my upcoming travels?’”

“I have so many examples of this,” Armitage continues. “When I was at my sister’s bachelorette party, I realized I was spending too much time Googling ‘ bachelorette party Instagram captions ‘ to come up with the perfect one-liner for my Instagram post. I had to consciously put my phone away to be present.”

Can Instagram Win Americans Back?

As the number of Instagram accounts in the U.S. and worldwide continues to grow, rates of dissatisfaction among users will likely rise, as well. Instagram’s leaders can address some of these concerns to meet the needs of vulnerable users.

However, some responsibility does fall on Instagram users to engage with the platform with focus and intention. Reducing daily usage, unfollowing harmful accounts, and making time for offline activities are vital steps toward forming a more positive relationship with social media apps.

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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