Columns, Opinion

Let Your Hair Down: Instagram removing “likes” can change the way we interact

The CEO of Instagram announced last Friday that the platform will be testing hiding “like” counts on certain users’ posts in the U.S. for the first time. 

This substantial change to the app will have a profound influence on its function for many users, ideally reducing the emphasis on comparing ourselves to others and building our social capital through numbers. 

Instagram said that the change would allow users to “focus on the photos and videos they share, not how many likes they get.” Like counts have become a key feature of Instagram’s social appeal, dramatically influencing the motivation behind users’ posts. That being said, the adjustment will most likely be met with a complete shift in the ways we use Instagram in our everyday lives. 

Social media is home to a surplus of advantages and has equipped society with innovative tools of communication and expression that we see nowhere else. There is no doubt in the abundant benefits of Instagram, yet certain ideologies may have taken on new forms somewhere throughout the rapid explosion of our online era. 

Instagram started as a creative means of social collaboration and networking, but its instantaneous growth birthed a world full of new cultural shifts that can be highly toxic in nature. 

The app has widely shaped the ways we translate social interactions and form relationships, enabling us to operate in a multi-faceted system in which likes and comments are exchanged for validation and self-esteem. 

Although the switch to hiding likes is only at test level now, the adjustment has the potential to prominently alter the way users interact with the app. As of now, Instagram is making like counts private for random accounts in the U.S., so that a user can see how many people liked a given photo or video of theirs, but nobody else can. 

Without the function of viewing the number of likes other users receive on their posts, the element of passing judgments and assumptions about a person based on their perceived online influence becomes limited and less relevant. As well as this, users may start to orient their posts based on what they actually like and care about versus what they think may get the most likes — or in other terms, the most social approval. 

The emphasis falls on the actual content, not the attention it gets. 

Recognizing the dramatic social change Instagram has stirred and how it has shaped our concept of the world and ourselves, the CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, explained that the adjustment is aimed at “depressurizing” the platform for today’s youth and producing a more inclusive online space in which unhealthy competition and comparison is not welcome.

Instagram has already experimented with removing likes in seven other countries beginning in July. The platform will ideally lends itself more to inspiring young people rather than feeding them with unrealistic role-models and potentially toxic representations of society. 

The transition to placing the focus aside from likes is not well received by everyone. In particular, many of Instagram’s “influencers” have come forward with stern disapproval of the change. These individuals utilize the app as an economic resource and their tightly managed accounts are dependent on public metrics in order to make profit through marketing brands and products to a wide audience. 

Consequently, hiding the amount of likes on posts causes celebrities and influencers to lose leverage over brand deals and promotions and the social hierarchy of the app begins to unfold. In protest, many have threatened to stop using Instagram entirely. 

But there are larger issues on the rise concerning public health and safety linked to Instagram’s effect on society that cannot go unaccounted for. Placing concerns about users’ mental health to the front of the conversation about social media, Instagram attempts to preserve the original inspiration of the app and be a safe space for all people. As Mosseri explained, “we will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health.” 

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