The Breakup 3.0
No longer are the days when Facebook was the only social media we had to worry about. Now, internet users have an average of 5.54 social media accounts. According to Sysomos, nearly two thirds of Americans are on social media sites, which is a tenfold increase since 2005 (Richards, 2016). Not to mention, one million new active social media users are added every day, which is around 12 each second (Smith, 2016)—scary!
Out of the major social media platforms, one of the fastest growing among younger users is most certainly Instagram. Launched in 2010, Instagram has grown exponentially since its beginning. Currently, there are approximately 400 million active users on Instagram, and 90% of its users are under the age of 35. Statistics show that 60% of Instagram users say that they log into this social media platform daily, making it the second most engaged network after Facebook (Smith, 2016).
Dedicated to sharing pictures, Instagram’s purpose did not appear to be a very novel idea in its beginning. Pictures were able to be shared via Facebook, so who would’ve thought that a social media platform made for sharing just one photo at a time would have taken off like it did? Instagram has found its niche in providing users with an outlet to share their photos and videos in a creative and artistic way. More photos are being taken now than ever. According to statistics, more pictures are taken every two minutes than were taken during the entire 1800s (Smith, 2016). As social media users, we are obsessed with photos, and now we are more inclined than ever to share those photos with everyone.
Although Instagram was essentially made for sharing photos, it has grown into a very versatile platform which has become a major mode of communication for many today. There are a variety of ways in which Instagram users choose to use the platform. The ways in which people think about the platform shapes the way in which they use it—this is their media ideology. According to Gershon, media ideologies are people’s “beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication” (2010). People have their own beliefs about what Instagram is used for, and this ultimately effects how they use it.
One of my friends (who uses Instagram very minimally) shared some of his insights regarding people’s media ideologies toward this platform, including his own.
Me: For what purpose do you primarily use Instagram?
JC: Mostly just to check in on people or to see what is going on in the world. Sometimes it makes me laugh if nothing else. It’s not like I post anything, so I just like to see what’s going on.
Me: How do you think most people use it?
JC: I think people use it to give others a small insight into their everyday life. I would say, it’s equal parts sharing useless information about their own life and equal parts creeping on other people’s lives.
In regards to relationship behavior specifically, there are additional media ideologies surrounding the different stages of a relationship and what Instagram is/isn’t used for. Even if someone isn’t in a romantic relationship of any sort, Instagram can still play a part in how people flirt or show interest in another person, simply by the structure of the medium. In this context, the structure of the medium refers to the “limitations and possibilities that are part of the material forms of the medium” (Gershon, 2010). Based on Instagram’s technology and the way it is structured, the app provides many opportunities for individuals to initiate communication or express feelings for someone else.
An article on Instagramers suggests that there are many “effects” that Instagram has on people that eventually leads them to meeting someone or potentially finding love. Some of these effects include the “loneliness” effect, “there is always something going on” effect, and the “fantasy” effect (Darenas, 2012). All of these effects influence users to keep scrolling on Instagram, and because of the app’s highly visual structure, users are able to do this and fulfill whatever needs they may have. Another element of the app which aids in communication is the ability for users to ‘like’ and comment on other people’s photos or videos. Liking photos is one way that users can express their interest in someone else. If users want to be even more forward, Instagram has a direct message feature that allows users to privately message other people as a way to communicate with them. All of these elements are structures of the medium which ultimately influence communication, and more specifically, romantic or relationship communication.
Within each of our individual media ideologies, there are certain idioms of practice. As defined by Gershon, idioms of practice are “people’s implicit and explicit intuitions about using different technologies that they have developed with their friends, family members, and coworkers” (2010). There are certain idioms of practice surrounding Instagram and flirting. Whether we’ve developed them through our own experiences or from the experiences of our friends, they are beliefs we hold onto and follow as we use a specific media. Another friend of mine was able to explain this a little further.
Me: What types of practices/behaviors do you see people having on Instagram in regards to flirting or showing people that they are interested in them?
SK: People will typically follow each other or ‘like’ a few pictures in a row to show that they’re interested and show that they’re scoping out your page. They might leave a racy comment or two.
Me: What do you mean by ‘racy’ comment?
SK: Something with emojis. Like one time, this guy I barely knew commented on one of my photos. He put the (peach emoji) with the (eyeball emoji) next to it, which basically means that he was staring at my ass.
Me: What are your reactions to those kinds of comments? Do you see it as a way of flirting today?
SK: My initial thought would be that the person is trying to flirt with me, and if I’m interested, I would comment back with a winky face emoji or something. I think this is definitely the way most people try to flirt today. It’s easier for them; plus, the person can’t see you behind the screen.
Me: So if this type of behavior is considered okay for flirting, what isn’t considered okay on Instagram?
SK: It isn’t okay if someone direct messages you and says they like your pictures for a particularly inappropriate reason. DM’ing on Instagram is just creepy in general. I feel Instagram is just a picture-related app to just leave small comments, whereas Twitter and Facebook leave more room to create a discussion or conversation.
As my friend SK discussed, her own experiences and things she has observed have ultimately formed her idioms of practice on Instagram. In terms of flirting, for SK, it is okay to like a photo and leave a comment, but it is most certainly not okay to send an inappropriate direct message via Instagram.
After people get past the flirting stage and a connection moves forward to a relationship, there are a different set of practices that develop on Instagram. I talked with friend about how people who are already in relationships behave differently on Instagram. In her answers, she focused primarily on what people in relationships post and the second-order information that comes along with it. According to Gershon, second-order information “is not what is actually said but rather the background knowledge” (2010). Often times this second-order information is the motivation behind what someone is saying (or posting).
Me: What do you tend to see posted on Instagram by people who are in relationships?
PB: People in relationships seem to post a lot more than people who aren’t. They normally post some sort of picture that expresses their love for each other with a long, mushy caption of some kind.
Me: Why do you think they feel the need to post pictures like that? What is their motivation behind it?
PB: I think people like post pictures with their significant other to provoke jealousy from their friends. We are all obsessed with making people think we are happier than them. If we can make everyone else jealous by seeming happier in our relationship than they are, then we are happy. Instagram is an easy way for people to do that.
My friend PB made an interesting point in regards to the second-order information of people in relationships. It’s very common for couples to publicize their relationship on Instagram, posting photos that show their followers how happy and in love they are. Posting these photos may simply bring the person joy; however, there may be an underlying reason as to why a person decides to share it. According to an article from The Debrief, as a culture we are becoming more and more obsessed with seeking approval. It states, “when we put something into the public domain, it’s because we’re inviting feedback; hopefully positive feedback at that” (Squier, 2016). Gaining likes has almost become a sort of competition on Instagram. So when someone in a relationship posts a picture of themselves with their beau, it instantly becomes a contest to see how many likes or comments the photo can generate. Even if people claim to be happy in their relationships, many times there is still an underlying desire to feel accepted and approved when they share their relationship via social media.
To spin off of this, I spoke with another friend about people in relationships and what they choose to post.
Me: For people in relationships, it’s obviously common for them to publicize it all over social media, especially Instagram. Are there specific things that should be left off of this space?
MJ: Uh, yes! When people post half naked pictures together, or pictures of them straddling one another while making out.
Me: Who do you follow?!
MJ: Well, it’s not usually anyone I follow, but it pops up on the ‘Explore’ feed all the time. I just think it’s inappropriate to be posting that kind of stuff because there should be some sort of discretion when posting about your relationship. Not to mention, it’s not very tactful to share all of your sexual feelings on social media.
Me: So why do you think they still feel the need to post it? Do you think people no longer view Instagram (or social media in general) as a public space?
MJ: I agree with that. I feel like some people use social media as their journal and they don’t realize how much others are actually reading into it.
In regards to the issue of posting ‘too much’ on Instagram, this friend stated how people don’t seem to recognize the platform as a public space. Posting pictures has become a habit for many, so the actual thought that an Instagram post goes out to the world does not cross their minds. An interesting article from ATTN even suggests that people who post lots of photos may be the ones with the most relationship issues—hmm, interesting. These studies have shown that “the more couples expose their intimate lives on social media, the more likely they’re suffering from problems inside the relationship” (Bell, 2016).
If these potential issues lead to a breakup, we enter into a whole other set of practices and ways of communicating via Instagram. In the book, Gershon references the term remediation in regards to breakups and media. Remediation is “how people’s media ideologies and uses of one medium are always connected to people’s media ideologies and uses of other older or newer media” (Gershon, 2010). My friend SK was able to provide some additional insight on this topic.
Me: When couples break up, what would you say are the steps they go through regarding social media?
SK: First, they usually change their relationship status on Facebook to ‘single.’ Then they might get on Instagram and post an image of a quote about how they’ll be stronger and write a long caption to go with it.
Me: Why do you think people turn to social media directly after a break up? Why do they feel the need to post this stuff?
SK: It might help them cope knowing that others are ‘listening.’ Also, when people comment stuff like, “I’m here for you,” it makes them feel good. I feel like people turn to social media to get the consoling they need now. You can reach a wider span of people and it’s probably easier for the person consoling to t
ype it out, as opposed to doing it face-to-face.
Over the years and through the growth of social media, the ways in which breakups are handled are completely different. It is interesting how people still seem to place value on the relationship status feature on Facebook. Changing this from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’ is often the first step on social media that couples take when breaking up. After that, they may move onto Instagram and delete any photos of their ex. Or they might, as my friend suggested, make a special post which contains second-order information about the breakup. This is ultimately another way for them to seek approval and receive the consoling they desire.
Relationships are already tricky things, and social media has made them a whole lot harder to manage. Whether it be flirting, dating, or breaking up—social media plays a part in almost every stage of a relationship today.
Bell, T. (2016). What it really means when couples post a lot on Facebook. ATTN. Retrieved from http://www.attn.com/stories/6375/truth-about-couples-who-post-too-much-on-facebook
Darenas. (2012). How to find love in Instagram. Instagramers. Retrieved from http://instagramers.com/destacados/how-to-find-love-in-instagram/
Gershon, I. (2010). The Breakup 2.0. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Richards, R. (2016). How many people use social media? Sysomos. Retrieved from https://blog.sysomos.com/2016/04/21/how-many-people-use-social-media/
Smith, K. (2016). 37 Instagram statistics for 2016. Brandwatch. Retrieved from https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/37-instagram-stats-2016/
Squier, C. (2016). Why do we get so obsessed with ‘likes’ on social media? The Debrief. Retrieved from http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/opinion/why-do-we-care-about-likes-on-social-media-20160563404