How Does Instagram Know My Friends and Who to Suggest?
With the rapid growth of social media and the internet, privacy may seem like a dwindling concept in today’s world. People are sharing almost everything on social media, ranging from their recent vacation to what they had for breakfast that morning, we’ve gotten more and more used to everyone knowing about everything we do.
Even the apps we use seem to know too much – for example, Instagram may try to suggest that you follow someone that you’ve never met before going to the club last night. Social media knows everything there is to know about us, and Instagram is no exception, with its eerily accurate suggestions of people you may know – some of which are oddly well-timed and accurate.
But how exactly do these suggestions work? Social media apps are getting better and better with these suggestions every year, even being able to detect and suggest people who aren’t connected to you on any other social media whatsoever. While your inner circle of active friends is easier to detect, as your social media and sharing frequently involves them, it gets harder as it reaches the edges of your social circles.
How Do Suggested Friends Show Up?
There’s no need to worry – social media is not stalking you everywhere you go… or is it? Rumors have sprung up in recent years of Facebook and other apps tracking users’ locations in correlation to others and using that to suggest potential friends – but for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that the developers are just getting better at making the algorithms. The algorithms that work toward providing you fresh and relevant friend suggestions take numerous factors into consideration, including:
- Linked Social Media Accounts – Since Facebook actually owns Instagram, it does not come as a surprise these two social media apps are tightly intertwined. If you friend somebody on Facebook, they will frequently also appear as a suggestion on Instagram soon afterward. Similarly, if you follow someone on Instagram, they will often appear on your Facebook friend suggestions.
- Phone Contacts – Instagram will also use your phone’s contacts to make friend suggestions for you. When you link your contacts to your Instagram account, your contacts who have linked Instagram will suggest them as potential people for you to follow. Even if you don’t have that user in your contacts, they may have you in theirs.
- Search History – If you searched for someone on Instagram recently and spent time looking at their profile without following them, they will appear as a suggestion later on. The algorithm also takes into account time spent on their profile, pictures linked, and other factors here.
- Hashtag Use – If you use many of the same hashtags as someone else in your posts, and those hashtags are niche enough, it’s likely that they will show up in your suggested friend’s list.
- Mutual Friends – Instagram often suggests you follow people with who you have many mutual friends. The more mutual friends you have with a person, the more likely they will appear in your list of suggested friends.
Some computer algorithms have become so good that it actually seems like the program is stalking you. In terms of social media as a profit-hungry industry, they’d be more likely to stalk information for marketing purposes than a helpful feature like friend suggestions.
How To Access Friend Suggestions
How do I see my suggested friends, though? Well, there are two easy ways to check Instagram’s latest recommendations for you:
Find “Suggested for You” In Your Feed:
- Log in to the Instagram mobile app if you aren’t logged in already.
- On your homepage feed, right after the first or second post, you’ll see Suggested For You, Instagram’s curated list of suggested users for you.
- You can swipe to the left to find more, or simply select “See All”, which should be in the top right corner of the Suggested for You box.
Use the “Discover People” option on your profile:
- Log in to the Instagram mobile app if you aren’t logged in already.
- Go to your profile page on the bottom right of the app.
- Tap on the hamburger menu on the top right and then choose “Discover People” from the list of options.
If you follow either method outlined above, you should be able to see a list of users that Instagram suggests you follow. New suggestions will appear occasionally, as Instagram improves its algorithm and picks up more of your social circles. On the top of the Discover People page, you’ll have the option to connect your Instagram account to other social media accounts or your phone contacts in order for Instagram to provide you with better and more relevant suggestions for who to follow.
To see which one of your Facebook or phone contacts is on Instagram without having to wait for them to be suggested, you can navigate to the Contacts tab on the Discover People page.
On this page, you’ll see the total number of your contacts that are on Instagram as well as a list of them, with the option to even follow them all at once. If you’ve already requested to follow them or are already following them, you’ll see “Requested” or “Following” next to their names.
How to Disable Friend Suggestions
If you dislike this feature, don’t worry, there is an easy way to get rid of it. Visit a web browser (this isn’t an option in the app) and do this:
- Navigate to your profile on the bottom right.
- Tap on Edit Profile near the top of the screen.
- At the bottom, you will find the “Similar Account Suggestions” option. Just tap it to disable the feature.
What Does Instagram Know About You?
There is a lot of conjecture on how Instagram is suggesting friends who aren’t even in people’s contacts. People who you don’t get along with and haven’t spoken to in a very long time. So, it’s normal to be weary about what information Instagram is collecting.
You probably already know that Instagram collects your name, email address, and even contacts because it asks for those things when you initiate service. But Instagram also collects information from related companies (like Facebook) to enhance user experience and it collects information about your friends and their activities too. This could explain why you see the incredibly odd suggestions that you do. For example; if your friend on Facebook tags, likes or comments on someone’s Facebook post, then they comment on your Instagram post, Instagram may suggest that person as a friend.
The company also collects information about the device you’re using. So, if you have two entirely separate Instagram accounts, the company may see the friends on one account and suggest it on another. This could explain why you have eerily accurate suggestions on a completely unrelated account.
The Privacy Question
Is Instagram stalking us and who we socialize with, or are they just trying to make our lives easier? Sometimes it seems too coincidental not to assume that Instagram is in fact using your location or some other method to suggest friends. For example if you go to a cookout and meet a friend of a friend, they’ll likely show up in your suggested friends within a matter of days.
Either way, the suggestions are a nice, convenient feature of Instagram that allows us to check out new people to follow. They can even help you expand your social circles if that’s your goal! If you do not want Instagram to show you these suggestions, or if you don’t want to appear in other peoples’ suggested friends, you can even simply turn this feature off.
Share your opinion on this in the comments below.