_CULTURE SOCIETY Sociology

_Insta-Support

Instagram has become a destination for some people making sensitive and stigmatized self-disclosures.

_Nazanin Andalibi

Andalibi is a doctoral candidate in information studies in the College of Computing & Informatics.

_Andrea Forte

Forte is an assistant professor in The iSchool at Drexel. Her work tackles questions about human-computer interaction, computer-supported cooperative work, online communities and learning sciences.

Despite all the negative criticism social media attracts, it can still be a force for good, or so Drexel researchers found in studying the way Instagram users lean on the site to help find solace from depression.

Even in today’s technology-connected society, people are hesitant to talk about their painful experiences and suffering for fear of being stigmatized. Doctoral candidate Nazanin Andalibi and associate professor Andrea Forte, both of the College of Computing & Informatics, observed that one way people in pain are overcoming silence is by using pictures on Instagram to help explain feelings and experiences that are often too painful or complicated to put into words.

#depression

95,000 posts

Over the course of a month, researchers examined responses to a sample of 800 Instagram posts pulled from more than 95,000 photos tagged with “#depression” that were posted by 24,920 unique users.

Forte and Andalibi had previously observed similar self-disclosure and support-seeking behavior among Reddit users.

“We wanted to see how people might behave differently on a more image-centric site, rather than one that is driven solely by textual posts and comments,” Andalibi says.

To investigate the matter, Forte and Andalibi examined the responses to a sample of 800 Instagram posts pulled from more than 95,000 photos tagged with “#depression” that were posted by 24,920 unique users over the course of a month. The findings — which Andalibi and Forte co-authored with Pinar Ozturk, who was a doctoral candidate at Stevens Institute of Technology at the time — indicate that not only are people using Instagram to make sensitive disclosures, but they are also getting mostly positive support from people on the site, and little in the way of negative or aggressive comments.

“The period of thinking online life is not ‘real life’ has passed, and these spaces have the potential to play meaningful roles in people’s lives in many ways, especially in times of distress,” Andalibi says. “It is important to design social technologies that can foster support and wellbeing, and mitigate abuse and harm.”