The End of Insta Likes: The Solution to Social Media Suffering?

Can Hiding Likes Solve the Inherent Problems of Social Media?

Instagram is testing an update that hides the number of likes on photos in an effort to focus attention on the content rather than its popularity. As an Instagram spokesperson put it, “We want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

Upon first reading headlines about this news, I found myself getting surprisingly excited. As a self-confessed obsessive Instagrammer, I am painfully familiar with the vicious cycle of searching for the perfect photo-op, editing for hours ten minutes, uploading to Instagram (of course with a carefully selected set of #hashtags) and waiting for the likes to come in - only to start again as the photo becomes outdated in about a day’s time.

This hunt for validation from strangers, neatly packaged in the form of likes and arriving straight to your screen via notifications, is just as psychologically addictive as consciousness-altering drugs. Who doesn’t like feeling the approval of their peers? And who wouldn’t be affected when that approval doesn’t arrive? You can objectively know that likes and Internet fame is not a measure of your worth and still feel a sting of bitterness or disappointment when the photo you think slays doesn’t get the reception you hoped for on the ‘gram.

This is what Instagram’s new feature is trying to combat. The version currently tested in Canada removes the number of likes from main feed photos, permalink pages and profiles. You can still double tap, and the poster will be able to see the likes on their own photos, but the number won’t show up to their followers.

Likes have been a metric of popularity since we use social media and they – or their lack thereof – have been shown to negatively affect self-esteem, especially among younger users. This update might alleviate some of that stress, by denying users the opportunity to compare their posts to others regarding the number of likes they received. But however well-intentioned this update seems to be, I can’t help but wonder if this is too little, too late? The age of social media created an environment where we publicize huge portions of our private lives, update our following several times a day (no matter how small, or how saturated with fake accounts it is), and shop, learn, read the news, find recipes, meet people, maintain relationships on social media platforms. The problems associated with social media – that they make us reliant on the instant gratification of likes to make us feel better about ourselves, that we voluntarily give up huge amounts of our privacy, that we create idolized versions of our lives by carefully curating and filtering what we share and at the same time believe that what others post is, in fact, their reality… - are inherent to social media itself.

I rejoiced at the idea of an Instagram without likes. I thought it meant a platform of true self-expression, with no stress of being likable, popular, or trendy. It was a short-lived joy, though. Realistically, will not seeing the likes of others stop us from editing out the ugly parts of our lives? Will it make us less dependent on the validation of strangers (remember, you will still see your own likes, those hits of dopamine will still come in)? The fact that the number of likes is hidden will not reduce the FOMO when you see influencers traveling to Marrakesh, Dubai or whatever this year’s trendiest destination is. It won’t stop users from comparing themselves to highly curated, filtered, and more often than not photoshopped photos of Instagram celebrities.

By no means do I think we should all stop using social media. I could not and would not give up Instagram or Twitter (Facebook is an entirely different question, though), and I don’t think I have to. With all their flaws, these platforms are an integral part of modern society. However, we must not leave it to big corporations to fix these flaws or eliminate these problems. The companies behind social media platforms benefit from making you spend the most amount of time on their apps – anything they do, rest assured they do to ensure you are using them. In fact, in 2018 social media use in the US has declined for the first time ever after years of steady growth – a statistic that might hint that we have reached “peak social media”. Is the revamp of Instagram the company’s answer at combating the anxiety of its users in an attempt to keep them on the app? I would not be surprised.



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