How to delete and unsend an Instagram message before the recipient sees it

Who I am
Matthew M. White
@matthewmwhite
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One of the biggest lessons learned in the world of social media right now is that people want content they can control. Facebook may want to know everything about you, but if you can't control who can see it, then even the power of the Zuck isn't enough to get you to share it. We want to control what enters and leaves our virtual lives. Sometimes it just means that the images disappear after a single view or after a certain amount of time. Sometimes that means hitting the reset button entirely, wiping the slate clean, and pretending you didn't just send that photo of you drunk and in your RenFair badges to your secret crush or boss.



Instagram understands this, and while they can't let you go back in time directly (there's reportedly a best-selling app now), they can let you delete a message you didn't intend to send. (or simply regret) before the recipient spots it. That is, of course, if you're quick enough.

Sending Instagram Direct Messages

Wait a second? Posts? But I thought all your subscribers would be able to see your content?

If you're new to Instagram or just haven't kept up with the last few years of app updates, you might be surprised by the news that you can send one-to-one messages to your favorite followers. It's time for a crash course in Instagram direct messaging.

Look for the Messenger icon or the little paper airplane in the top right corner of the app. This is your direct messaging key. You've probably seen it dozens of times and just ignored it.


  • From your feed, tap this icon to display a list of subscribers. Select the subscriber you want to send a message to and get started.
  • From individual posts on your feed or from individual posts under your profile, tap the same icon to share content that has already been posted via direct message.
  • From your Instagram camera, take a new photo or video, tap Send to, and select your recipients.

Only the people you specify can see the content. Also, they cannot share this content with anyone else. At least they can't unless they pass their phones around. Or take screenshots. But some things are out of our hands.


Unsend Instagram Direct Messages

Great. Now you know how to send a message. But what happens when you feel the messenger's regret?

Instagram makes it easy to unsend messages.

  1. Tap the private message icon.
  2. Navigate to the conversation containing the message you want to cancel.
  3. Press and hold the message.
  4. Tap Cancel sending.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the recipient has not already seen it.

Tell if your message has been seen

Instagram has you covered here too. The app has included a way to know if your messages have been viewed.

  • If you sent the message to only one person, then look for the "seen" tag below the message. If there is nothing there, the message has not yet been viewed.
  • If you sent the message to more than one specific person, find the seen tag below the post. The username of the person who viewed the message will be displayed.

Now take all of that with a grain of salt. The truth is that there are workarounds. A quick internet search will reveal ways you can post a message without making it known. Additionally, for the “seen” tag to fire, the user must actually open the app and enter the chat. If they see the message via a push notification on their phone, you will have no way of knowing.



Sending content that disappears

If you're about to send something and think you might regret it, consider sending content that disappears. This way, the recipient will only get one view. Basically, your crush might see this embarrassing costume, but he won't be able to show it to his friends.


In every app's relentless odyssey to be like every other app, Instagram now lets you send this kind of content to individuals via direct message. However, understanding how is a bit tricky.

  1. Access direct messages by tapping the messaging icon.
  2. Tap the camera button next to the user's profile.
  3. Take a photo or video as usual.
  4. Select whether you want to allow replay or only one view.
  5. Tap Send ou Send to others if you want to add recipients.
  6. Select recipients.

Note that if you access the Instagram camera in any other way, you will not have the controls for the replay feature. This includes tapping the camera icon from your feed or swiping directly from your feed. You must access the camera from direct messaging only.


Now go out and undo the send until you get the content. Be careful. If your crush sees a push notification and then opens direct messaging to find no messages, they'll know what's going on and you'll have some explaining to do.

Do you have any other Instagram tips or tricks? Share them with us below!

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