Should Instagram remove likes?

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Is it possible for a social media company accused of being indirectly responsible for depression, anxiety, bullying, and FOMO to be an authority on the safeguard features needed to alleviate this social toxicity?

On the one hand, it’s hard to think of who else is better equipped to solve their own problems than the creators themselves. However, Instagram’s trialled new feature, which removes the like-count as a means to tackle the mental health struggles of their younger users, is as ironic as Heineken telling alcoholics to “Drink Responsibly”. 

It does seem as though the new feature, which would allow only the person posting to see how many ‘hearts’ a photo received, could reduce the social pressure of having to reach a certain amount of likes for your post. However, as long as popularity is still quantitative, the fundamental problems will not change.

However, as long as popularity is still quantative, the fundamental problems will not change

Firstly, Instagram’s CEO, Adam Mosseri, said that the initiative was to make Instagram less of a “competition” and to become “less pressurised”. The company is trying to change users’ behaviour by encouraging sharing that is more personal and communicative, to get users to focus on what they share and not on how many likes they get for a post.

However, the main problem Instagram faces is that as long as a metric exists to assign value, the underlying motivation for sharing a photo will still be for the likes. Even though no one else but you can see your like-count, it is hard to see people changing the content of their posts; sharing our authentic life as opposed to how we want people to see ourselves. Instagram will always be about posting for others and not for you.

On the other hand, there is an argument that the removal of likes will lead to an overall reduction in toxicity and pressure. That although Instagram is guilty of providing a platform for comparison and insecurity, removing the quantitative metric will lead to less anxiety.

The initiative was to make Instagram less of a “competition”

However, because the individual can still see how many likes their posts get, they will naturally compare their like count to your previous post. If one post got 20 less likes than the one before, you are alone in your despair. You are encouraged by Instagram to post more personally and honestly, however the payoff may be less likes than before. What then? Can Instagram change the success value of a post? As Rebecca Jennings of Vox writes, “no matter how much Instagram would like to be viewed as a place users feel good about visiting, its entire existence is predicated on reminding people that other people are having more fun than they are”.

As a user who had their account trialled by the new feature, I would actually argue for it. I found it nicer not to see people’s like count, and my friends, who usually get hundreds of likes, be humbled by the hidden like-count feature. However, as a tool for seriously changing the core idea of what Instagram is, hiding likes will still not be able to successfully help those truly suffering from the competitive pressures of positing a glamorous lifestyle.

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