Life&Style Writer Anya Logue discusses whether Instagram removing likes could improve our relationship with social media
Instagram has been experimenting with hiding the number of likes on posts in selected countries, so that users are able to see how many likes their own posts get, but no one else can see this number. This trial expanded to the US last week.
For my generation, turning your life into a brand and constantly trying to advertise has become so normalised that many of us don’t even realise we are doing it. Social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook can be a great way to stay in touch with friends and share our favourite moments with them. But for many, this is not about sharing with friends any more. Instead, it has become a game in which we are all competing to present our perfectly curated lives as the most fun, beautiful, and exciting as they can possibly appear. A social media profile is often one of the first things we use to judge each other and figure out whether we might get along. Stalking someone’s Instagram after meeting them has become natural. So to many of us, our social media profile is important. And the number of likes we gain is the most immediate and obvious measure of how successful we are in this popularity contest. Instagram removing this feature would drastically change the user experience.
The validation we receive from the number of likes on a photo can be a source of anxiety. Getting fewer likes than normal on a post leads to real disappointment for many of my friends, and panic that whatever they have posted does not measure up to the high standard we all hold for ourselves. But in reality, this is a terrible measure for how we are really doing in life. Number of likes isn’t even a perfect measure of how good our Instagram game is. The split second decision of whether to double tap or not when scrolling through my feed does not necessarily tell you anything meaningful about what I think of you. I know all this logically. So why do I still care so much who ends up liking my pictures?
Removing the number of likes that currently appears right next to every post could be a step in the right direction. This might shift the emphasis of the platform from the competition that inevitably comes with giving numerical value to posts. The company’s CEO Adam Mosseri explains this, saying that the change is ‘to try to depressurise Instagram, make it less of a competition.’
But not everyone thinks this change is a good idea. The announcement that the trial would start to affect some users in the US led to a backlash of outrage, including Nicki Minaj stating that she would stop posting on the platform if it started hiding the number of likes. Some influencers, artists and musicians are concerned that it might damage their incomes. Companies that might have offered them sponsorships or discounts in return for access to their audiences on Instagram may be unwilling to do this now that they don’t have an easy way to verify how much audience engagement each post gets. However, companies could adapt and simply start using other metrics like number of comments or followers to make sponsorship decisions. Number of likes was already starting to become a problematic way of verifying audiences, as businesses based on being able to buy Instagram likes emerged.
Perhaps the real issue is the way we choose to use Instagram. There will always be a way to turn the social media game into a competition, whether this is with number of likes, follower count, number of comments, or just simply trying to present the most marketable version of yourself in your photos. If you use Instagram in a way that you enjoy, then the app can be a great way to keep all your favourite photos together in one place and share nice memories with friends. But if you find yourself getting stressed every time you want to make a post, maybe it’s time to take a break from the platform.