by Eve Schlegel ‘20
Over the past couple months, Instagram has been trialing tests to hide the number of likes posts receive. It does not affect every Instagram user because the company wants to observe reactions before it makes any permanent changes. The likes are hidden from followers, so only the individual who made the post can see the number of likes. The company did not reveal what percentage of users are affected.
Instagram has not completely stripped the ability to see the amount of likes. If someone is determined enough, they can sit and count out each like. The platform just no longer showcases the totaled like count as if it is the center of the post. The company wants to change the focus of posts from the popularity of a post to the actual content of the photo or video.
“We don’t want Instagram to be such a competition,” said Adam Mosseri, CEO of Instagram. “We want it to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with the people they love and the things that they care about.”
“On its face it seems like a really good idea, but [teens] will find another form of social currency to rank order themselves and their value as compared to others,” said Dr. Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and Professor of Criminology at Florida Atlantic University, and who has been a speaker at MCPS schools. “Unfortunately, now it is probably going to be the number of followers you have that serves as the key indicator and differentiator as to who is the most popular, or desirable, or worthy of one’s time and attention.”
This shift in Instagram’s priorities is due to an attempt to improve the mental health of the social media’s users. Many users on Instagram, especially teens, associate the number of likes on a post to their popularity as a person. To them, likes represent something larger than just a number: tangible evidence of their social worth. With anxiety and depression rates at record heights among teens today, this may be a factor of that discomfort.
“I like the idea behind it, but likes on Instagram are kind of expected and getting rid of it now seems a bit of a late attempt to address the issues they want. I think there are other ways to help with mental health but getting rid of likes is too far of a change,” said senior Lois Shin.
“[Teens] are always distracting themselves – for example, by scrolling through Instagram and being inundated with everyone’s best pics and videos and stories and perfectly curated and filtered lives,” said Hinduja. “Constant comparison and self-evaluation then takes place, and very few can measure up – which leads to self-condemnation that reinforces a negative perception about themselves (magnifying their own flaws, insecurities, doubts, and struggles).”
If the change by Instagram does not receive backlash from its users, it may expand to other platforms as well in an attempt to improve mental health on the Internet. Some could argue a desire for acceptance on social media does not just affect teens, but users of other ages as well. For example, Facebook is made up of mostly older audiences which may face similar problems.
It may be a shock at first, but deep down people might begin to appreciate the new feature. It may be comforting to have a positive culture on Instagram without the looming desire for acceptance through likes. Or, maybe the desire for likes will shift to a desire for more followers. Either way, one’s longing for acceptance will always be present, no matter what changes social media makes.