Instagram users only have to search for the “hashtag” of their preferred drug of choice to be rewarded with a never-ending tile feed of images which were posted including that hashtag. Including a hashtag on an instagram post is relatively ambiguous in the eyes of Instagram’s algorithm. Whereas individuals may be able to discern when a hashtag is misused, ironically used, comedically used, or intentionally used, the algorithm itself cannot. Moreover, whereas a user can discern whether or not to follow someone using these hashtags and whether or not a user wants to follow someone using these hashtags, the algorithm itself cannot. Fast Company explains the problem succinctly: “The problem is Instagram’s algorithms can’t distinguish the context the hashtags are used in. And if a user then follows a dealer using the hashtags, Instagram’s algorithms then suggest that user follow more drug dealers.” If a user follows #vicodin, for example, and perhaps begins to follow an account which regularly uses #vicodin in their posts, the Instagram algorithm will immediately include more #vicodin “related” posts in the feed, and suggest more accounts which use #vicodin. Meaning, if someone follows an account run by a drug dealer, Instagram is likely to suggest more drug dealer accounts. Following isn’t the only problem. All a user has to do is “like” a post with #vicodin in it to prompt the algorithm to flood them with similar content.
Addiction and social media are two topics which have come to be discussed nearly hand in hand in our modern, notification-driven age. Social media has been criticized as addicting and even major companies like Apple have taken steps to reduce addiction to platforms, screens, and our digital devices as a whole. We are vulnerable to addiction in general, and our beloved social media platforms play on that, which makes Instagram’s drug problem an even greater problem. Those who are struggling with addiction or recovering from addiction are vulnerable to the kind of content posted on Instagram and even more vulnerable to the decisions of an algorithm which is out of their control. Those in recovery work tirelessly to change their behaviors, like not drive by pharmacies or listen to music about drugs which they find triggering. In a moment of desperation, looking up a hashtag of a favorite substance on Instagram, a person is vulnerable to being unable to reverse that decision, then punished with ongoing content, suggestions, and other triggers for their drug of choice.
In recovery it is said that the first drink or the first drug is the real problem, not the hundredth or twenty-fifth. That first use is the one which leads to all the other uses, seemingly unstoppable in nature. Instagram’s algorithm gives those vulnerable to addiction the same problem. All it takes is one hashtag.
We believe in your ability to change. We know men struggling with addiction have the capacity to create transformative change in their lives, sustainably, building a sustainable sobriety and future. Call Tree House Recovery in Orange County, California today for information on our men’s addiction treatment programs: (855) 202-2138