November 10, 2023

Making Sense of AI “Friends” on Instagram: The growing need for real-world connections

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to have an engaging conversation on this topic with your students in class!

According to screenshots shared by app researcher Alessandro Paluzzi, Instagram was recently seen developing an AI “friend” feature. This unreleased Instagram feature allows you to customize an AI chatbot to your liking and message with it 24/7. 

While Instagram has not confirmed that this feature will be launched for public use, it is not the first time students have encountered this technology online. In February of 2023, Snapchat introduced its “My AI chatbot,” a customizable AI tool popular among students that users can chat with about almost any topic. This new feature raised concerns among parents about how students will be able to separate human and AI interactions and whether or not they will be able to strike a balance with their devices.

The concept driving this technology is to allow social media users to have personalized conversations with AI, though it raises questions about the boundaries between human and machine interaction. Educators need to be aware of these new AI features in social media due to their potential impact on students beyond the platform. While AI chatbots may introduce tech distractions in the classroom, there’s an opportunity for educators to empower students to navigate these challenges positively, fostering a balance that enhances student well-being and academic performance.

AI’s Impact on Real-World Interactions

As AI technology advances, the development of AI “friends” presents new opportunities for students. While navigating the complexities of social media, students might discover comfort and support from these AI “friends.” Their chatbots’ customization and training options enable students to shape them uniquely, making the interaction more enjoyable for the individual. 

Like ChatGPT and Snapchat’s Chatbot, students can use the AI “friends” feature to level up their writing game, learn about topics they are interested in, such as art or history, and even get help planning a fun event.

While acknowledging these positive aspects, there’s a concern that AI can blur the lines between interacting with humans and AI. 

Julia Stoyanovich, the director of NYU’s Centre for Responsible AI, recently talked with TechCrunch about how AI can lead us to believe we are talking with an actual human: 

“One of the biggest — if not the biggest — problems with the way we use generative AI today is that we are fooled into thinking that we are interacting with another human,” Stoyanovich said. “We are fooled into thinking that the thing on the other end of the line is connecting with us. That it has empathy. We open up to it and leave ourselves vulnerable to manipulation or disappointment. This is one of the distinct dangers of the anthropomorphization of AI, as we call it.”

While AI can provide students with valuable advice, information, and ideas, overusing the platform can also lead to high screen time-related challenges, such as nearsightedness or overdependence on technology, negatively impacting students’ problem-solving skills

It’s important that educators be mindful of the impact that AI chatbots leave on student well-being, social skills, and genuine human connections– recognizing the technology’s benefits and the need to strike a balance with it. 

TSI’s Take

The customizable and human-like features that social media AI possesses were implemented to attract and keep students’ attention, making it harder for them to put their devices down. While AI can help students study, come up with fun activities, and give advice on specific areas, moderation is key with AI, and learning how to strike a balance with technology is essential for students to protect their mental health.

When students can strike a balance successfully with their social media and tech, they have more meaningful in-person interactions and more time to spend on academics and hobbies, helping them improve their well-being.

So, how can educators empower students to use AI within their favorite social media apps responsibly while striking a balance with technology? Here are some tips: 

  1. Encourage students to schedule time to spend with friends and family IRL: Whether it’s planning a coffee date with your friends, dinner nights with your family, or catching up with someone in person you haven’t seen in a while, it’s important to prioritize time with those closest to you. It not only serves as a break from technology, but it can reduce stress as well. 
  2. Teach students to avoid multitasking with AI: Productivity can drop as much as 40% when multitasking. Alternating between using social media AI and working or studying can hurt students’ ability to focus.
  3. Huddle with students on the positive uses of social media AI: AI is here to stay, and while the challenges associated with it are real, educators can have open discussions on ways to navigate it with responsibility and creativity to benefit their lives, not detract from them.

As Instagram explores AI “friends,” students can balance embracing technological advancements while safeguarding their well-being. Educators can empower students to navigate evolving AI technology positively by fostering responsible tech use, highlighting the limitations of AI, and encouraging students to strike a balance with devices.

There are various ways to empower students to strike a balance, starting with huddling with your students to see what works. To start the conversation, check out our School Playbook: Educators’ Role in Empowering Students to Strike a Balance with Technology. 

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question
Huddle with your students
Social media platforms are leveling up by introducing AI onto their platforms. Snapchat recently came out with its AI Chatbot, and Instagram is in the process of developing its AI “friend.” While these tools are fun and helpful, they can make it harder for us to put our devices down. What are some strategies you use to take a break from your devices and strike a balance with technology? 

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.