After testing in seven other countries, Instagram has now hidden the number of ‘likes’ seen at the bottom of photos for a trial period on certain app users in America. CEO Adam Mosseri, informed the public in a press conference last week, that the decision to do so was based on negative health claims associated with seeing other account’s ‘likes.’ Mosseri stated that the company “will make decisions that hurt the business, if they help people’s well-being and health.” Which is pretty noble, if you ask me.
But—and yes, there is always a ‘but’ when it comes to the motives of big companies like Instagram—though this appears to be a noble deed, we must be leery of a claim about improving user’s mental health that comes from an app made entirely to showcase one’s life and give other’s approval by “liking” their posts. Instagram’s major features are posting and liking. In other words: seeking and giving approval of one another’s lives.
And it turns out approval is something we all desire: just look at the success of the company. Tens of thousands of jobs have been created in the forms of influencers and social media marketers. One billion people use the app at least once a month with 500 million people using Insta Stories every day. Instagram was born out of a concept revolved around a social desire. The need to feel seen and for our actions to be validated, has only grown with the rise of social media. We now hide behind our computers more than ever. We all know how much easier it is to post an edited image of ourselves accompanied by an unoriginal witty or inspiring line of text, than it is to show up at a party in trendy, uncomfortable clothes and make a bad joke out of anxiety that no one laughs at.
So yeah, it’s easy to see why the company has had so much success. But despite that success, Instagram has been ranked the worst social media platform for young people’s health in an RSPH study. The never ending stream of perfectly concocted photos relentlessly hacks into our psyche and affects our mental well-being. But why don’t we just unfollow the accounts that make us feel that way? For most, I think it’s because we want better—for our health, for our lives—and seeing images of Sally, glammed out, eating a superfood bowl at a posh café, while we devour a bag of chips in our sweats on the couch, may make us feel bad in the moment, but we also like the way it inspires us to want better for our lives. And that’s not a crime. But day after day jealousy of the coveted life of a ‘Travel Influencer” is unhealthy and you’d be surprised how good you feel after clicking “unfollow.”
The real trouble of social media woe comes in its addictive nature. In fact, it’s more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. And this is because every time we receive a ‘like,’ our dopamine levels rise, leading us to feel like we got an award. And that’s what gets us hooked. Like so many others, my morning routine consists of turning on my WiFi to welcome the stream (ok, more like droplets) of social media notifications appearing on my screen. When others like my photos I feel validated, successful or attractive. But when I get few likes, or fewer than a friend—for say, a selfie—I feel undesired or that I’m a failure. Which is absolutely ridiculous, and I need to remind myself of that fact. But unfortunately, that’s the way of the ‘like’ comparison game. And it’s affecting how we view ourselves and our levels of happiness.
Will hiding likes from other’s posts be the solution to the comparison game? No, probably not, because things like photo editing and fake backdrops will still exist. But it may help draw attention away from focusing on likes, instead shifting focus to the actual photo. There are a some who believe the company will never completely hide likes—they are after all a driving force behind Instagram’s popularity. Esquire’s Olivia Ovenden even suggests the company is doing this gain control over the influencer market. Right now, Instagram does not profit from the partnership between influencers and outside businesses. Ovenden’s theory is that by hiding likes, they will be in control of telling a business which influencer has the most impact on what market, thus providing an extra service they can charge for.
I usually think the best of everyone and every situation, which sometimes means I get taken advantage of, but still, in this case, I can’t help but hope for the best. Whether or not Instagram’s motives are to improve their user’s mental health, I know this: hiding likes will undoubtedly positively affect feelings of self-worth. Yes, other changes need to be made across every social media platform, but we, the users, can also take steps toward creating a healthy and positive social media experience.
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