By Alex Hentschel
In November, the CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, announced that Instagram would begin removing like counts for certain select users in the United States. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Mosseri stated that the decision was about making Instagram “a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”
The company has piloted the program in seven countries — Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand — with success. Likes will not completely disappear, as the user will still be able to see the likes their own posts receives, but not the likes that other users’ posts receive, limiting comparison.
With more than a billion users, Instagram is one of the largest social media networks in the world. It also has a way of making all life experiences seem rosy. After all, curating a complex self-image with the perfect angles and lighting enables us to hide away the worst experiences of our lives. “Instagram vs. Reality” became a joke for a reason. “Finstas” (fake Instagrams) became a popular way to work around a curated feed. Users create a second profile, followed only by close friends, where they could post pictures that were less “perfect.”
Instagram attempted to patch the feeling that users could only post perfect content with the “Stories” feature introduced in 2016. With “Stories,” which disappear within 24 hours, Instagram hoped that users could post funny and unpolished content. Instead, users began to post equally polished content on their stories. The opposite occurred as the bar was raised in order for a picture to be postable to a user’s main feed. Unlike Twitter, which is built around funny, relatable, stream-of-consciousness thoughts, or Facebook, which features long posts and link shares and complete albums, Instagram is all about image and aesthetic. Some users make sure that each of their pictures is filtered with the same color theme.
Cedars surveyed over 300 students to gauge their opinions on Instagram’s new decision, both anonymously and with names disclosed. The results of the survey can be found on the next page.
Some students felt that the decision would make them feel more confident in using Instagram:
“Instagram’s omnipotent move to hide like-counts strips the quantitative code that otherwise pressures us to construct illusions of emotional, aesthetic, and even spiritual homogeneity. We double-tap because we appreciate it and post because it’s what made us feel— there’s no longer enough information for ulterior motives. And I think it’s in this space that we truly know and learn to ‘like’ each individual other, in the same closet where we were taught to pray.” — Caroline Clauson, alumni, public relations
“When I heard, I wish it had happened sooner. Instagram can be a really fun thing where you share an idealized form of your life, but the ‘like’ part of it makes it into a comparison game and turns a fun, innocent, enjoyable activity a mental space of toxicity. It’ll just create a better headspace for everyone on the app.” — Meaghan Tipton, senior nursing student.
“One thing I don’t like about Instagram is how it makes me want what everyone else has. Someone posts a photo with a cute outfit, I want it! Someone goes on vacation, I want that! It makes me less satisfied with what God has given me … although, with the removal of likes, people will probably turn towards following numbers as status.” —Anonymous
“I really love that Instagram is planning to take away the like counts! I know that has been an insecurity of mine especially as a high schooler and middle schooler. I think this move will encourage more posts and more engagement with the app. This is good for the mental health of Instagram users: especially young girls.” — Rachel Erich, freshman Economics major
Others felt that the decision was pointless and harmful to the platform as a whole:
“I don’t think ‘likes’ are the biggest social media issue when it comes to self image. I think the real issue is comparing yourself to others based on how they look, the things they get to do, and the people they hangout with as projected on their social media.” — Anonymous
“I think it is a little counteractive to remove likes from everyone else being able to see but you can still see the amount of likes you have on your own post. While you can no longer compare you can still ‘not feel good enough’ because you didn’t get your desired number of likes.” — Anonymous
“Likes help me gauge the kind of content that my followers like to see. Without them I won’t have any idea of whether they are enjoying my posts or not.” — Anonymous
“I like being able to distinguish between different posts. Normally, I ‘like’ a post only if it stands out as well done, touching, or funny. Also, I like the idea that I can see who saw something I posted.” — Anonymous
Another interesting facet of the decision to remove likes is influencers, who use Instagram as a business and measure their engagement with their followers by likes. Influencers worry that Instagram’s decision could cost them valuable brand deals.
Students weighed in:
“I run a photography page and it is helpful for me to see which posts do better and worse so I can revise my content, and I appreciate when certain people like my posts, but overall I think this isn’t a bad idea on Instagram’s part.” — Anonymous
“I think it’s a good idea for mental health purposes (most important), but it is also a bad idea for those who use Instagram to market their products, organizations, and businesses — many which are small businesses that will not get as many followers or understand what products/services people need/ want without the like button.” — Anonymous
The long-term effects of social media use and “like culture” is still being discovered. A study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2016 found that heightened social media use was “significantly associated” with major depression. This is because comparison was found to cause people to think about themselves negatively. Whether Instagram’s move helps with the strong correlation between social media and depression remains to be seen.
Alex Hentschel is a senior International Studies and Spanish double major and the off-campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys sociology, black coffee, and honest debate, preferably all at once.