This semester we read The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media by Ilana Gershon. The Breakup 2.0 did a good job of laying out real life situations and giving an analysis of how they should be handled. The material is dated, however, because Facebook is discussed as the main medium for social media. While Facebook is still a relevant form of social media, it is not in my opinion the main one utilized today. I chose to look at Instagram for this blog post. I analyzed how some of my peers interact across that medium, with examples being how they asked people out, how they used it in relationships, and if they used it to break up.
Instagram is a popular photo-sharing application for smartphones. At this point it can be used on iPhones and Android platforms only (FAQ). Compared with other social networks, Instagram is relatively simple—it is focused exclusively on sharing photos with your friends (Instagram). Where Facebook broke barriers with computer users, Instagram did the same with mobile phone users. It adds an artistic aspect that is favorable to users. Instagram was designed to experience moments as they happen, and to connect the world through photos (FAQ). I gathered stories from four of my peers, two boys and two girls, about their various experiences using Instagram and the different ways they used it.
Before discussing the stories, The Breakup 2.0 introduced the concept of media ideologies, which are “a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning” (Gershon 3). In the case of Instagram, users and designers believe that the visual aspect is more real and appealing than just using words as in texting and email. In a New York Times article, Jenna Wortham touched on the Instagram ideology. She wrote about her friend Steven, who started a relationship with a person who followed him on Instagram and took time to “like” his selfies (Wortham). Steven followed this person right back, which led to online flirting using Instagram’s private messaging, leading to a first date. Wortham wrote that the attractive part about Instagram is that it gives you a “real-time look into a prospective partner’s world,” including social life, travels, and food preferences, without ever having to invest in the relationship (Wortham). I think this is the primary ideology behind Instagram, that it shows real life as it is happening.
With my four friends, I first asked them if they’d ever asked anyone out using Instagram. Pew Research Center surveyed over 2,200 people last May and learned that 15 percent of them had used social media to ask someone out on a date (Wortham). To do that on Instagram, which is a picture sharing application, you use features like instant messaging and leaving comments on pictures. This is the structure of the medium, as discussed in The Breakup 2.0. Instagram is primarily visual but allows people to like, comment, and chat as well. It permits people to truly interact yet keeps it simple. It is simple enough for both of my male friends to use it in attempts to pick up girls. They both admitted to having asked someone out on Instagram.
For one of my male friends it worked. He followed Instagram’s lead and kept it simple. He told her he had thought she was pretty for a long time and that being as he did not have her phone number Instagram was his only way of reaching her. They went to the same college and arranged to meet up for coffee. Apparently to both, the structure of Instagram was suitable to facilitate a romantic conversation.
Male number two did not have as much success. He experienced the other side of attempted Instagram flings, although his failure may have reflected himself. I say this because when he attempted to profess a crush on Instagram, the girl he messaged began sending him back pictures of several different girls he had been involved with in the recent past. He chose to leave the conversation and cut his losses. This type of response from the girl was not necessarily showing distaste for the way she was approached, but more a distaste for the messenger.
This also brings up the concept of what is the public in this medium, and what is made public, as covered in The Breakup 2.0. The girl was able to see pictures of other girls because, when you are “public” on Instagram, anyone can subscribe to follow your photos, and all photos are public by default so they are visible to anyone using Instagram (FAQ). There is a private option, where the user has to approve all follow requests first, and then only people who you approve to follow you will be able to see your photos (FAQ).
Both girls I interviewed said that they would not like being asked out via Instagram. One of them went as far as to say she thought it was “creepy” and “annoying” when a guy messaged her. This is an example of second order information as mentioned in The Breakup 2.0, which is what a person understands it means to communicate this kind of information by this medium and how this type of communication is interpreted (Gershon 18). However, when I gave the girls the example of my successful friend and how he had no other way to contact her, they both deemed that as acceptable.
I asked the girls what a good alternative to contacting them on Instagram would be. Both said a phone call or a text would make them happier. Neither said face to face which I thought was interesting. Nonetheless they had given me an idea of remediation, which is the ways people interlink media (Gershon). The Breakup 2.0 described remediation as when a person chooses one medium, it matters that they also could have chosen any other medium. In the case of these two girls, they would have preferred the medium of texting or phoning to Instagram.
This experience of talking with my four friends gave me an idea of what idioms of practice my peers deemed appropriate. Idioms of practice are agreed upon appropriate social uses of technology which emerge out of collective discussions and shared practices, and which often become apparent when someone violates an expectation (Gershon). My discussions with my friends also gave me a very small sampling of the difference between males and females when it comes to what is appropriate on social media, specifically Instagram.
With my friends, I inadvertently skipped right over the flirting stage and into the asking out stage. Instagram is in my opinion set up to be particularly flirty. When you choose to like someone’s picture, instead of a thumbs up or a smiley you see a heart on the image you liked. This is innocent enough, but when an individual finds the liker of the picture to be attractive or vice versa, that little heart could mean any number of things. So then I asked my friends for second order information about what their opinion on the meaning behind a like was.
The group agreed that for the most part likes are innocent. However, one of the girls argued that it was not acceptable to like a girl’s photo that you were not close friends with if you were in a relationship with another girl. It was also not acceptable to like a girl’s photo if she was scantily clad. One Glamour article suggests that, if a male’s feed is full of bikini-clad women, it should sound an alarm with other women. A few beautiful women is okay, but if every other picture is a swimsuit model he’s most likely not totally ready for a committed, serious relationship (Christian). My friend went on to list several different things it was unacceptable to brand with that little heart. This showed the different standards and the multiple gray areas this aspect of Instagram holds.
Maybe it is partly because of second order information about responses to Instagram posts that the company has recently decided to add a new feature. Instagram users can now opt to “turn off commenting” before posting a photo (O’Brien).
The new feature is meant to make Instagram a more welcoming and safe place for everyone (O’Brien). They are also making it easier for those with private accounts to remove followers they no longer want to have access to their accounts (O’Brien). These changes may make Instagram more relationship-friendly in the long run.
Breaking up on social media is part of the discussion in The Breakup 2.0 as seen in its title. Something that all four of my friends could agree on is that it is not acceptable to breakup on Instagram. I asked them why, considering they were fine in some cases with starting a relationship on it. They were all adamant that breakups need to be done face to face. One of the girls said she had broken up with someone via phone call but only because they were a significant distance apart at the time. They reasoned that it seemed disrespectful to not take the time to have a real conversation with someone when you broke up with them. They went onto say that it was important to hear a person’s tone and get the details of why you were breaking up. They explained that those things would be difficult to communicate on Instagram.
Male number one had a different reason for not using the Instagram breakup strategy. He said it was because at that point he would have the girl’s number so there would be no reason to use Instagram. This made more sense to me as his reason for using Instagram to start a relationship was lack of a better way to communicate. Male number two just disagreed with the whole premise of a social media breakup and called it disrespectful. This showed that breaking up via Instagram, at least amongst my small test group, was considered taboo.
Once there is a breakup it can be hard to move forward. Articles like the one in Vogue discuss the etiquette of breaking up on social media because the reminders of your relationship “live on in your and your ex’s feeds” (Garcia). The editors agreed that it was perfectly acceptable to unfollow an ex on Instagram, but purging old photos was a little trickier (Garcia). One writer said she planned ahead and never posted photos of the relationship on Instagram, and another suggested just getting a new handle and starting over (Garcia).
With Instagram being a website focused on photographs, it is easy for someone who uses it to become a bit of a narcissist. We begin to base our idea of attractiveness on a number of likes. We also judge a person based on what they choose to show us, or in other words what they make public. I believe that this is a slippery slope to be on, and is true of Instagram just like other social media. While you may be able to glean some real-life information about an individual from what they post on Instagram, it is important to reserve your assessments for the real person and not the picture they chose to show you.
Christian, Scott. “The Delicate Politics of Dating and Instagram.” Glamour. Condé Nast, 28 May 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
“FAQ.” Instagram. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
Garcia, Patricia. “Social Media Breakup Etiquette: How to Handle Past Relationships on Facebook and Instagram.” Vogue. 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
Gershon, Ilana. The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2010. Print.
“Instagram.” GCFLearnFree. Goodwill Community Foundation, 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
O’Brien, Sara Ashley. “Instagram Finally Lets Users Disable Comments.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 6 Dec. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
Wortham, Jenna. “Cupid’s Arrows Fly on Social Media, Too.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 June 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.