We have all felt the feeling of pressure when it comes to Instagram 'likes' and have put more weight than we should on a number. We discuss why the latest Instagram test of hiding likes from users is a powerful move...
Back at the age of 16, Facebook was the be-all and end-all of our social lives. Even then, how many likes you received on your Facebook profile picture was an essential KPI in the world of popularity.
Then Instagram came along with its perfect pictures and filtered world and we all got caught in the social media mess. Before the days of influencers, Instagram was a place full of creativity and authentic depictions of our daily food intake.
Then like all good things, Instagram realised it could make money. Then, everyone on Instagram realised they could make money too. Likes became poker chips - little circles you placed in front of the brand in the hope they would take a bet on you.
Likes are no more
Now Instagram is rolling out a new feature which takes the chips away and allows the user to call their bluff. The trial of hiding likes from all users other than the owner of the page has already been rolled out in Canada and is now making its way to Irish smartphones.
The platform's reasoning for this update is to ease pressure on the mental health of users. Facebook Australia and New Zealand policy director Mia Garlick said in a statement: "We want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves."
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She continued: "We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love."
Pressure is the word of choice when we talk of social media in the world of today. Whether it's pressure on how we look, what we weigh, what job we have, how much money we do or do not have–our worlds are on a constant spin of comparison.
Personally, I think the update is a welcome relief. When it comes to Instagram, there is a certain type of politics. You must only post your picture at the peak times which is anything after 8 o'clock. 10 o'clock is the peak because people are winding down and it is prime time to scroll mindlessly.
One should never dare to post in the morning because no one is going to see it and thus you will receive no likes. Never post on a weekend because people are out living life and won't see your latest photographic creation.
If your photo received under 100 likes, it is a dud. If you receive 200 likes or more you are an Instagram pro.
Writing these feels ridiculous but subconsciously, it is a manifesto the majority of Instagram users have come to live by. And it's sad to think of the weight we place on a double-tap. Something as minor as a heart emoji can cause such anguish in a person's life.
I have felt the panic of posting a photo and not getting the response I thought I wanted. When it doesn't happen, you start to compare figures like an accountant. You feel a sense of frantic panic when you see a friend or acquaintance obtain more likes than you. Distressed and perturbed, you wonder why and base your worth on a fickle number.
The release of pressure
Taking away the very thing that causes such outbursts is like popping a balloon, releasing years of pent up anxious air over an app we lived without (perfectly fine might I add) for years.
Taking photos should be a joy but Instagram themselves placed pressure on us all to post pictures which were marketable only. In a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Centre in the US, it was found that nearly 40% of teenagers felt pressure to only share pictures that would garner a lot of likes or comments. Whether we like it or not, many of us can put up our hands and say we have habitually reopened Instagram just to see the number go up.
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but have they missed the point?
Like a competition, we were pitted against one another in the fight for online gratification. And now, without it, what will Instagram look like?
Well, hopefully, a place where creativity and individuality can grow. Without numbers, Instagram is just a timeline of personal galleries. Without the analytics, there are just photos of life, art, fashion, beauty and whatever else you could possibly want. Without the chips, maybe we will post without thinking and with spontaneity; something which the app had lost.
While this is a great move, there are still other issues at play. In the world of influencing, where buying followers is child's play, likes were a way for us to see who was conning the system or not. And even without likes, Instagram is still a platform where picture perfection is paramount. Enhancing apps such as Facetune and Photoshop are still used with reckless abandon and continue to damage the mental well-being of many.
Nevertheless, taking away the numbers is undoubtedly a positive move. Maybe now we will all begin to see our worth as much more than how many likes we get on a picture. Although only a test, it feels like the beginning of a much-needed change in the world of social media.
A change that will see the poker chips no longer held over our heads.
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