Hiding Your Likes Is The Best Thing Instagram Has Ever Done
Yesterday, we logged on to Instagram to see that the all-important number of likes had vanished.
Careers are hanging in the balance. People don’t look like celebrities anymore. The great Instagram shake-up of 2019 has brought much angst from those who depend on the platform to make a living and endless memes and fodder for satirical websites who love to dine out on the ‘plights’ of Instagram influencers.
As of now, Instagram has rolled out to Australia and a number of other countries an update that will remove the visibility of ‘likes’ on each post. So while people can still like your posts and you can like theirs, the actual number of likes won’t be publicly visible. For users with a business account, this data as well as other analytics is still available, it’s just not front and center anymore.
According to Instagram, the test is geared towards taking our attention away from how many likes you get on a post and just letting us look and share for the sheer enjoyment of it. They want us to be more focussed on telling our story, not posting content purely for the adulation. The test first rolled out earlier this year in Canada, with Instagram saying at the time that:
"We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they're getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about."
While the world seems to be falling apart for some influencers, there is another side to the story, and that is how social media use affects our health and well-being. Social media is definitely a double-edged sword. While it can enable connection and information sharing, there is a darker side that can lead to low self-esteem, body image issues, depression and anxiety. And calls for social media platforms to do something about the damaging side of scrolling through our feed might finally be working.
In my opinion, hiding likes is one of the best things Instagram has ever done.
While users will still be able to see how many likes their own posts receive, they won't be able to see how many likes are on the posts of others, eliminating the damaging urge to compare themselves to their friends or to influencers.
Social media is ubiquitous in our modern life, and its use is especially prevalent amongst young women and girls. This is alarming because this is the same group whose exposure to peer or societal pressure has the possibility of shaping their views about themselves and their bodies. Research in this field is growing and is giving us the science that backs up the concerns we have about the effects of social media use.
We already know that just using Instagram is associated with feelings of anxiety and poor body image, especially amongst young women. The more time you spend on these platforms, the worse things can be.
This is just the beginning though. Other research has shown that our self-esteem can be directly impacted by the number of likes we get on a photo on Instagram. For some users, the more likes and comments your photos get, the more satisfied they are with their appearance. It is a tenuous and fraught relationship when your well-being is reliant on the approval of strangers.
Other research has demonstrated similar findings. For those who place great importance on the number of likes a photo receives, they can tend to feel more dissatisfied with their facial appearance and more likely to compare themselves to others. All of these findings seem to be particularly true for Instagram which is very image focussed, as you can tell just by simply checking your feed.
This dissatisfaction is nothing to be sneezed at. Body dissatisfaction and poor body image can have lasting and serious consequences to our mental and physical health including contributing to dangerous dieting, eating disorders, pursuing unnecessary cosmetic procedures, or even making us less likely to lead a healthy lifestyle through exercise for example. If you don’t think you’re beautiful and worthy enough, the consequences are pretty dangerous.
Social media use is not a benign pastime by any stretch of the imagination. We can inoculate ourselves to a degree by limiting our use, following accounts that are positive and don’t contribute to these negative feelings. But at the end of the day, the platforms themselves need to do much better at protecting their users from the varied insults that you can be subjected to every time you open your feed.
In the day since the change happened, the world hasn’t fallen apart, but I think it might be a little bit better for some. I applaud Instagram for this move, I think it shows they might actually be listening to what users need to use their platforms safely. And while removing likes won’t completely eradicate the myriad of issues social media contributes to, it’s long overdue that users and platforms alike step up and make Instagram a safer, more pleasant place to be.