The Psychology Behind Why Instagram Is Giving You the Ick

Like Madonna, Instagram has reinvented itself again and again. Since it launched on October 6, 2010, the app has evolved dramatically from the chronological feed of heavily edited and hashtagged photo posts it once offered.

Its latest reinvention, though, has Gen Z TikTokers calling it “cringe” and “not chill”, with some adding that the platform’s now giving them “the ick”. In a viral TikTok, creator Lauren Maile (@laurenmaile) rallied her generation to try to make the platform chill again.

“I’ve been hearing this everywhere, so I’m going to repeat it,” she says. “I’m sick and tired of the seriousness on Instagram, okay?”

She goes on to explain the unsaid rules of the app. The way photo dumps have to be posted in a specific order. The way Instagram Stories have to look. And generally, how everything shared on the app has to be so curated.

“And it’s not fun anymore,” she says. “I’m starting to get scared to post. I’m starting to overthink everything. I just want it to be fun again. […] Let’s make it happen.”

@laurenmaile we are the ones to make a change people #2024 #newyear #instagram ♬ original sound – lauren maile

Though the carousel of photos and videos Instagram users dubbed ‘photo dumps’ was meant to be what scheduling tool Later described as a “low-effort collection that conveys a story or mood”, it comes with its own set of rules.

“Be thoughtful with your first image,” advises a blog post from Adobe, outlining how to create a photo dump. “Keep it casual: The best part about the Instagram photo dump is in its laid-back ‘not trying to hard’ nature.”

In November 2023, another TikTok creator Nana (@_thisisnana) asked in a viral clip whether she was alone in not being bothered to post on Instagram anymore.

“Like, when I go to post on Instagram, I’m just like ‘ugh’,” she says. “It kind of feels like a bit of a chore. And I also feel like people don’t really interact because no one can see anyone’s post. And then I feel like with Instagram, it’s giving me Facebook vibes.”

Nancy Sokorno, a psychologist at online mental health platform We Lysn, says some Instagram users get anxious or depressed if their posts don’t receive the expected level of engagement or the external validation they seek isn’t received. The app also encourages social comparison, which can result in feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

“When we compare this to TikTok, I think users might be gravitating there for a more-un-edited insight into people’s lives, which offers a fresh and new approach to scrolling,” she says.

“It’s refreshing to see that not everyone is living a seemingly ‘perfect’ life, enabling us to relate to those content creators who are openly sharing their struggles and bad days. It makes us realise we are not alone.”

Instagram is also well-known for copying features from other platforms, mainly TikTok. It’s worth noting, though, that these days, imitation is running rampant among all social platforms. That said, Instagram’s new imitated features are likely also contributing to its users getting “the ick”.

Instagram group posts
Image: Instagram

“Users may associate certain features or content styles with the original platform, then when Instagram tries to replicate or adopt these features, it can be perceived as inauthentic or an attempt to imitate rather than innovate,” says Sokorno.

She also points out that users have certain expectations for the type of content and experience they’ll find on Instagram. When changes are made, it can disrupt those expectations, leading to a sense of discomfort or cringe as users adjust to the new features.

“In general, people can be resistant to change,” she says. “Even if the updates improve Instagram in the long run, initial reactions may be negative as users grapple with something new and different.”

Related: Flipside or Flop-side: Is Instagram’s New Feature the Gen Z Winner They’re Hoping For?

Related: Instagram Is Really Trying to Make Notes Happen, Adding Yet Another Update

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