Social commentary and think pieces

05 August 2019

Is Instagram's removal of the 'like' the end of social media as we know it?


Instagram is currently testing the removal of the 'like' feature in countries including Ireland, Japan and Australia. In removing the feature, the number of likes a photo receives will be visible to whoever posted the photo, however, it would be invisible to their followers and those viewing their account.
In response to the changes, Instagram's Tara Hopkins said "We want Instagram to be a place where people can feel comfortable expressing themselves." But, what does the removal of the like really mean for social media users? And, what does it mean for the future of social media as we know it?

Personally, I don't believe that removing the like will totally eradicate all issues associated with social media. Part of our attraction to Instagram is the validation we receive when a photo gains a certain number of likes, and as the number of likes a photo receives is still visible to us - only our followers can't see it - we still receive that dopamine rush that we so desperately chase through our addiction to digital validation. Admittedly, without the like the pressure to receive such approval is lessened, as the amount of likes you have is reserved for your eyes and your eyes only.
However, you would undoubtedly continue to seek validation with or without the like being public, and it is arguable that if the like is removed, our focus will shift to other factors such as the number of followers we have.

However, there's no denying that the like is particularly toxic in the sense that its a clear signifier of how 'validated' we are. Our addiction to receiving that validation is only aggravated by the feature, encouraging damaging habits - constant obsessing over likes - and damaging thought processes - beating yourself up when you don't receive the amount of likes you had envisioned.
The number of likes a photo receives can seem astronomically important, and as a generation we often obsess over likes to such an extent that we fool ourselves into believing that the number of times someone double taps our photo is  definitive of our worth as a human being. In the midst of such thought processes, its crucial to remind ourselves that a like is, in fact, astronomically unimportant. Its a flimsy piece of digital approval which benefits the world in no way. It means nothing.

This is an issue particularly prominent in teenagers. Its clear to see that the rate of adolescent mental health issues has soared since the early noughties, and I truly believe that the introduction of social media is largely to blame for that. Though this isn't an issue affecting teenagers exclusively - we all seek validation to a certain extent, despite our age - I do think that for teenagers, who have been surrounded by social media for almost the entirety of their adolescence, the removal of the like will be hugely impactful on their mental wellbeing.

One of the largest issues regarding the removal of the like is the prospect of a possible end - or significant change - to influencer culture.
Without the like feature, brands would struggle to see how much attention - or engagement - an influencers photo has gotten. This makes it far more difficult for influencers to take part in campaigns, their most prominent source of income.
Surely, this does nothing but go to show how unsustainable influencing is as a career. Particularly as the vast majority of influencer's content is owned by platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and so I think its quite naive to depend on social media, which you have very little to no control over, as your largest source of income.
However, I do wonder if, with the removal of the like, brands may focus more strongly on the quality of content an influencer is creating, rather than the statistical aspect of it? And if so, will the removal of the like restore a greater collaborative nature to social media, rather than a competitive one?

Despite the benefits of the removal of the like, I refuse to believe that the decision has been made by Instagram out of a genuine concern or care for the apps users.
Rather, I think its a business decision made purely to benefit Instagram and generate a larger income for Facebook, who own the app.
Without the like, Influencer culture is altered massively and if brands and Influencers struggle to work together, brands are far more likely to advertise through the Instagram app, rather than the individual profile's of Influencers, generating more money for Facebook.
Not only that, but by removing the like Instagram are avoiding any scrutiny in regards to the apps affect on the mental health of its users, particularly teenagers.

Possibly the most pressing question is; could this be the end to social media as we know it?
I wouldn't know the answer. But, as much of a change it does make, I really don't believe that the change will be at all groundbreaking or monumental in any way to the majority of Instagram's users who are normal people, rather than influencers.
Much of the younger generation - Gen Z - aren't particularly enthralled by the social media world anyway. I for one am certainly not.

When Instagram was introduced in 2010, I saw the app as a hub for me and my friends in which we communicated with each other and people at school who, without being connected via social media, we may not have come into contact with otherwise.
However, that's no longer the case. I almost never communicate with people I don't offline through Instagram and over the past couple of years fewer and fewer of my friends are using Instagram at all, myself included.
In fact, I almost despise social media and how its changed the way we interact with one and another. Quite frankly, I think its made us quite lazy, in the sense that we so often depend on the fact that we can hide behind a screen in order to avoid talking to each other face to face.
The amount of 'perfection' social media presents us with, Instagram in particular, is something else I find antagonising. No matter how many times we are reminded that Instagram is nothing but a catalogue of our best moments and certainly not a sum of our whole selves, we are only human and being constantly surrounded by other people's curated 'perfection' is bound to feed into self deprecating thought processes.

There's no doubt that removing the like will change the nature of social media. But, it will change it for the better.
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