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How to search your instant messages on Instagram

Instagram instant messaging interface in the mobile app
PixieMe / Shutterstock

Instagram offers all the messaging features you need to chat about the latest memes and posts except one: a search tool. It allows you to make video calls to your friends and send self-destructive pictures and videos, but you can not sift through your conversations.

When you want to set a specific message, you have no choice but to scroll through the entire chat yourself. The Instant Messages tab has a search bar at the top, but it only filters your conversations by contact.

Unfortunately, third-party Instagram developers do not have access to your messages. This excludes the possibility for an unofficial client to post your Instagram conversations.

Fortunately, there is a workable, albeit cumbersome, solution you can turn to.

The only way you can search for Instagram DMs is through the Data Download tool. This tool allows you to create and download an archive of all the information Instagram has about you including photos and videos you have uploaded, your personal information and yes, your instant messages. Because these files are in text format, you can easily search them with any basic text editor available on your computer.

To request a copy of your Instagram data, launch the Instagram app on your iPhone or Android device and enter your profile tab.

Tap the Instagram profile tab option

Here, select the burger menu in the upper right corner to display a side menu.

Click the hamburger settings icon on the Instagram profile page

Go to Settings> Security> Download data.

Click the download button in the Instagram app settings

Enter your email address and select the blue “Request Download” button at the bottom of the form. You will soon receive an email with a link to your data archive.

Download an archive of Instagram data

On your computer, you can access this option by clicking on your profile picture icon at the top right of Instagram’s website.

Open the profile menu on the Instagram website

From there, go to Settings> Privacy & Settings> Request Download.

Click the Request Download button on the Instagram website

After downloading the ZIP folder, extract the contents of your computer or phone. It will have a “messages.json” file. When you open it, it takes a few seconds to load, depending on how much text you send on Instagram.

click on the message file in the Instagram data archive

The contents of the file may seem gibberish and too complicated at first, but you do not need to understand it. All you need to know is that this file has a log of all your instant messages up to the time you selected the Request Download button.

To look up a specific Instagram message, just run the search command (Ctrl + F on Windows, Cmd + F on Mac and the search option in your phone’s file manager) and then enter your keyword. The text will be highlighted if there is a match.

Search for messages in the Instagram data archive

Alternatively, since each message is logged with its timestamp and sender, you can also use the date and contact name as keywords. The information is documented in reverse chronological order. To read the entire conversation associated with your keyword, just scroll up or down.

Furthermore, you can explore the archive and the rest of the objects to understand how much of your data Instagram collects. There is a “seen_conduct.json” file that has a log of every post you have seen and scrolled past. “Devices.json” has an account for the devices you have ever used to log in to your Instagram account.

This trick is not a substitute for a simple search box, and it is especially not practical for when you want to go directly through the history of your instant messages. But until Instagram adds an official search tool, it’s a handy solution you can rely on under the most desperate circumstances.

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