Instagram’s ‘Mute’ Feature is Only Making the Problem Worse


The social complexities are strong with this one.

People all over the internet and Twittersphere are rejoicing as Instagram has unveiled its new ‘mute’ button, allowing users the ability to quietly ‘mute’ accounts they follow rather than unfollowing (and offending) them.

Me, looking into the eyes of my beloved mute button on Instagram. I feel so blessed. About dam time! 👰🏻

— Daniel Preda (@MisterPreda) May 23, 2018


I have to hand it to them - it was a respectable move by Instagram to take a look at the human dynamics and social complexities rather than just focusing on data points  - in fact a spokesperson from Instagram, Seine Kim, has expressed “of course, we use data to inform product decisions, but we also get feedback in more low-tech ways, we do some qualitative research and keep our ear on the ground for feedback from our community.”

So what are these ‘complex social dynamics’ they referring to? Let’s break it down.

You’re friends with someone, you follow them and they follow you. One day, you somehow find out they’ve unfollowed you, whether it be by a third-party app (which Instagram is making less likely) or just by asking IRL “I’ve noticed you haven’t liked many of my photos lately, have you unfollowed me?” They hang their head in shame and admit it. That hurts.

And I get it - it’s no secret that social media, Instagram specifically, has been affecting the mental health of users globally. It’s a big game of comparison and looking at the highlight-reel of others is making us feel crappy about our own lives. One 32 year-old artist highlights why they’ll be using the ‘mute’ feature: "I feel like it's going to be good for my mental health to tune out other peoples' successes for a while, I'm happy for my friends who are achieving great things, but Instagram makes it too easy to start getting bitter about why that's not me! I'm looking forward to living in a self-imposed creative bubble for a little while."

Makes sense. Even if the whole thing seems a bit pre-teen and petty, the pain is real and most of us have felt it before. But a ‘mute’ button feels like a bit of a cowardly solution to me.Instead of hiding behind a curtain, what is taking away our power to grow some balls and press ‘unfollow’ on content we don’t care to see? In a half-committal world where we’re already full of anxieties about ‘what other people think’, I’m afraid that instead of overcoming this behaviour, it’s only encouraging walking on the eggshells of causing offense and being even more cautious about the judgement of others.

We’ve finally started moving past the stage where follower-count is everything and now more than ever this means that follower-count doesn’t count. With the number of ‘fake followers’ on the rise thanks to third party apps, bots and now this ‘mute’ button especially, it’s all about engagement - and (warning) the ‘mute’ button is going to cause a massive drop in these numbers. For brands and businesses in particular, this may really mess with an already-confusing figure when it comes to reach.

People are praising the feature for being able to have more control over your feed, especially for brands and businesses who feel the need to replicate follows to other accounts within their niche. But why follow accounts that are uninspiring to you as a business in the first place? It seems that Instagram is encouraging the behaviour of sympathy-follows when it should be praising the creation of better content

.It’s not like the feature is new - it’s just a cowardly way out of confronting bad content.