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27th November 2019

Will your heart go on without ‘likes’ on Instagram?

Is it time to remove the dopamine-infused ‘like’ feature on Instagram? Phoebe Moore discusses
Will your heart go on without ‘likes’ on Instagram?
Photo courtesy of Phoebe Moore @The Mancunion

It’s of no question that Instagram is both our friend and foe. Since 2010, we’ve been able to share our most-loved photos, get inspired by other’s content and keep up to date with what friends and celebrities have been up to. However, as time has gone on, we’ve become increasingly aware of the negative effects of this prominent social media platform on its users, around 75% of which are aged between 18 and 24.

Since the very first post (curiously a stray dog at a taco stand in Mexico, posted by co-founder Kevin Systrom in 2010), our collective bad habits and spiralling thought processes have increased. Instagram has given us multiple ways to compare ourselves with other’s lifestyles, appearances, successes and possessions, as we scroll through content presented to us via algorithms, which ultimately takes advantage of our insecurities.

Nevertheless, Instagram may now be in the process of getting rid of one of its most harmful features, originally brought to us by mother company Facebook; the infamous ‘like’ button.

The dopamine-infused red heart, which seems to give the simple indication that somebody ‘likes’ a post you’ve published, is now being questioned and as of mid-November 2019, some UK users have been subject to the testing of its removal. The trials began in May with Canadian users of the app, widening in July to include users in Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand. Now, selected individuals in the US and UK have experienced a change involving the ‘like’ display of posts, meaning they cannot see the number of people that have liked other people’s photos with only the ‘like’ quantity of their own posts being visible.

CEO Adam Mosseri spoke at the Wired 25 Conference. “The big idea is to try and make Instagram feel less pressurised, to make it less of a competition.” He makes reference to us measuring and building our self worth in relation to others, through “a flimsy sense of digital approval”, as penned by the High Low Podcast’s Pandora Sykes. In 2017, ex-president of Facebook, Sean Parker, admitted that the ‘like’, amongst other features, was specifically designed to exploit our vulnerability in order to make considerable amounts of cash. It then begs the question of is this proposed change of its removal really to improve users’ wellbeing or does it have other business motives? Could it be a way to pivot criticism amid increasing pressure regarding connections between mental health and social media?

The ‘like’ itself holds such a prominent position in our Instagram experience, and many dedicate an unhealthy amount of time to chasing as many likes as possible. Both good and bad experiences of posting a photo can fuel the compulsion to post more and more, either hoping to get the same dopamine-hit or with a disappointed determination to do better next time. Either way, the ‘like’ fuels a certain compulsion to check the app again and again, to see the metrics of our ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in a quantitative manner, causing anxiety and resulting in a waste of our precious time.

We’ve probably all been guilty of these Instagram-fuelled habits, myself included. But does this digital icon of approval hold real meaning? A genuine source of validation surely can’t be numerical, involving a simple button press. Self-esteem is boosted by compliments in person or via a message, anything that verbally expresses partiality, kindness, or encouragement. Our self worth should never rely upon the impersonal, and ultimately meaningless, touch of a button.

Without the ‘like’, Instagram would be a more genuine space for self-expression and social interaction. Photos would be freely chosen because of their meaning to the user, rather than everyone else’s perception of them. The moment we post, we make ourselves vulnerable to the judgement of others. Our collective wellbeing would be better off without this phenomenon of numerically-defined ‘success’, directly causing insecurity, popularity contests and comparison-fuelled anxiety.

Obviously, for the risk of feeling inadequate on Instagram to disappear, only removing the visibility of other users’ like counts and not those on our own images will not cut it — the whole feature must be scrapped to make a real difference. Whilst brands and influencers benefit from the likes-to-funds model, ordinary people who use Instagram for purely frivolous and personal reasons need a change. We now have a generation of teenagers who don’t know life without social media; do we really want new generations to see these practices and insecurities as the norm and part of everyday life?

Removing the ‘like’ function is a step in the right direction, but would it leave behind the myriad of other issues arising from social media? Issues such as body image and confidence or lifestyle envy, even though we know nobody’s feed is a realistic portrayal of their life, have all been negatively affected by the increased use of Instagram. Removing the ‘like’ function is not enough if follower counts remain visible as this is yet another numerical indication of popularity, continuing to generate comparisons with other users.

Nevertheless, no matter what features end up being universally removed or not, being mindful of our habits and motives on Instagram on an individual level is the way to go. As with most things, it’s important to always use it in moderation for the sake of our own wellbeing and self-esteem. Whilst some may hope for the disappearance of this little red button of doom, let’s honour our authentic selves and not let these meaningless numbers get to us — we are worth so much more than that.

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