Mental Health

Want to leave Instagram? Deleting your account could be harder than you think

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Lauren Geall
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It takes 30 days from the moment you delete your Instagram account for it to become inaccessible, during which you can log back in and ‘save’ it. But is this making things harder for people who feel they’re addicted to social media and want to leave it behind?

If you enjoyed your forced hiatus from social media while Instagram was down last week, you might have found yourself thinking about what it would be like to stop scrolling altogether. But if you did decide to take the plunge and delete your account, chances are you’d find the process a lot trickier than first expected.

You see, unlike the ease with which you can create an account, deleting yourself from the Instagram system takes a little bit more work.

On top of there being no option to delete your account from within the Instagram app (you have to log into the desktop site, instead), it takes 30 days from the point you request deletion for your profile to be taken out of your hands, a period during which you can simply log back in and ‘save’ your account from its fate.  

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At first glance, this doesn’t seem like such a bad idea – after all, if you accidentally delete your account, it gives you a second chance to restore all your photos before they disappear forever. But for those who decide to delete their account for mental health reasons – specifically, those who feel they’re addicted to the platform – having that 30-day grace period can make the process feel even harder.

Claire*, from Portsmouth, says this was the case for her 14-year-old daughter, who made the decision to delete her account after struggling with her mental health.

“She was ill for well over a year and when, about a couple of months ago, she was starting to the turn the corner, she was looking back and saying, ‘Mum, I really think it was Instagram that made me so ill and I’m going to leave it’,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last month

“When we worked out [how to delete her account] I was really cross to see that they said, ‘We’ll delete it in a month, and if you change your mind just log back in and choose to keep your account’.” 

A phone with the Instagram logo on
Claire* was shocked to see how long her daughter's account would be available for.

On top of the fact that the process was so difficult to navigate, Claire also voiced her frustration that Instagram was so hard to contact.

“[With] any normal business there are channels to complain – to reach somebody. If you remain unsatisfied there’s the right to external procedure, [or] an ombudsman will look at your complaint,” she said. “Instagram has no email or contact number or staff available, or anyone to raise an issue.”

In light of the Wall Street Journal’s report last month that showed Facebook is aware of the impact its image-sharing platform has on young girls – especially when it comes to body image – it’s easy to see why Claire was so frustrated to be faced with so many hurdles while trying to help her daughter leave the platform.

However, there’s also the argument that that 30-day grace period is necessary – and that instead of changing its deletion policy, Instagram needs to do more to support its users and prevent them from needing to leave the platform for mental health issues in the first place. 

That’s the viewpoint of social media expert Jennifer Quigley-Jones, the founder of the influencer marketing agency Digital Voices. Quigley-Jones says the cooling-off period is an important safety net for influencers whose accounts have been hacked and who make a living on the platform – but argues that other safety measures could be installed.

“The problem is not so much that [aspirational and unrealistic] content exists – it’s similar to advertising and magazines – the problem is that when some young women feel bad, some have reported that spending excessive time on the platform makes them feel worse,” she explains.

A girl looking at a picture on a phone
Quigley-Jones believes Instagram could do more to make it clear where filters have been used.

“Recent industry guidelines in influencer marketing from the ISBA insist that creators do not use misleading filters when promoting a product, but the platform could do more and be more proactive in declarations when filters have been used – even potentially remove beautifying filters,” she suggests.

Quigley-Jones continues: “Another option would be behavioural nudges and limiting session time, especially if users seem to be spending time [looking at] harmful content. Instagram has said it is researching this feature in a recent blog post.

“However, social media and mental health struggles driven by comparison are not going anywhere. The only long-term solution is educating people on how to build and maintain strong boundaries between real and online life, and how to create a positive space through the content they watch and engage with.” 

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When we asked Instagram about its deletion process and the issues some users were facing, it was keen to stress that the 30-day grace period exists for a number of important reasons, including the ability to retrieve an account in cases of hacking – and that the platform often gets criticised for that period being too short.

Instagram also confirmed that it takes 90 days for a user’s account to be fully deleted from its servers, but that the account will not be accessible after the initial 30-day period has passed.

If one thing’s for sure, it’s that the debate surrounding Instagram and how it impacts the mental health of its users isn’t going anywhere – and that keeping the young people who use the platform safe should be everyone’s top priority. 

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*not her real name

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.