People come to social media to build or grow their presence on the platforms, which means increasing either Likes on a page or Likes on a post. As a social media consultant, I see first-hand how much this aspect of the gamification can impact our wellbeing. The ‘social media vortex of doom’ is a phrase I use to describe how we feel when we start basing our value and the value of the work we are doing in the world on how many Likes we have, gain or lose. 

We’ve become reliant on numbers, so we let them stand in for meaning more than they do. Remove the integers and we might find our digital Shangri-la. Or at least a slightly healthier, more sustainable life online. 

Source: Wired; Quote by Benjamin Grosser (creates ‘ demetricators’ for social media); My Life online without all the metrics, by Arielle Pards.

I don’t know if you have ever done this yourself, but let’s say you have written something that feels vulnerable or a post that you have worked really hard on and you think is really good; but, you post it and nothing happens. Social media crickets and tumbleweeds blow through your notifications and it feels like the worst thing that could happen. No Likes, no comments, nothing. So you question yourself, consider deleting the post, or you do actually delete it. Of course the opposite can also happen where you share a picture of your dog, or a silly in-the-moment post, which then gets hundreds of Likes. 

A lot of this is down to humans, but a lot is also down to the algorithms. If you don’t know how the Facebook algorithms work, basically the more people that like a post, the more people get to see a post. More post Likes = higher post reach. And no Likes = no or very little reach. 

I still have to remind myself not to get sucked into the Likes dynamic of being on social media, but it is hard. I see that how much engagement and how much reach we get can impact our self-esteem. 

It is the metric we have been given and taught equals success. Instagram feels like it has become the game of ‘Influencer’ and the prize is advertising dollars or sales, which make people play the social media game even more. 

It is also the main dopamine delivery method, those pesky Likes that have me picking up my phone to check to see how many a post has, and I personally feel that it drives a lot of my social media addiction. 

As the meaning of ’Likes’ has evolved in our digital society, I began to see it like a virus, creating comparison, anxiety and judgement as individuals, internally, externally and amongst us collectively. 

The Like landscape is changing. Instagram are testing hiding Likes in seven countries including Australia, New Zealand and most recently in the USA. Adam Mosseri, Instagram CEO said of hiding Likes at the Wired 25 conference: 

The idea is to try and depressurise Instagram, make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with the people that they love, things that inspire them. But it’s really focused about young people on young people. We have to see how it affects how people feel about their platform, how it affects how they use the platform, how it affects the creator ecosystem. But I’ve been spending a lot of time on this personally. 

Adam Mosseri, Instagram CEO

To clarify, Instagram will be hiding your Likes from other users, but you will still be able to see your own Likes. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the platform. I wonder if people will stop liking posts because they can’t see their Likes showing up; if that’s the case then the algorithm won’t work in the same way anymore, as reach will be reduced, and we could end up feeling worse because we see post Likes drop. 

It’s still too early to gauge whether social media de-metrication improves a user’s mental health or the quality of online discourse. If it does work, it could be an important step to bringing users back to platforms that they have been using less frequently or abandoning. 

Source: Wired; Instagram Will Test Hiding ‘Likes’ in the US Starting Next Week 

Even Jack Doresy, Twitter CEO, admitted this recently on his TED Talk ‘How Twitter Needs to Change’, saying: 

If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasise the ‘like’ count as much, I don’t think I would even create ‘like’ in the first place.  

Source: Twitter; Jack Dorsey @JackDorsey. 

We can lurk behind Likes, thinking we are entering a conversation. I hold my hands up in doing this: it’s quick, it’s easy, it is a nod of appreciation, and those Likes do feel good, dammit. 

Hiding like counts is just the latest step in Instagram’s quest to become the safest place on the internet. Removing ‘Likes’ won’t remove comparison culture. 

Source: Instagram: Jocelyn at Cyber psychologist @ digital_nutrition.

Yet Likes can be a sweet thing when done with intention; they can be sign of appreciation, acknowledgement, an energy exchange. Likes aren’t all bad. 

Whoever you enjoy following on here, whatever accounts light you up, let them and the algorithms know by ‘liking’ their stuff. It’s actually a really powerful way to support someone’s work and business *and* make sure you to see more of their free content. It’s also a powerful energy exchange! An inspiring or useful post for a quick tap? Sounds like a good deal to me! 

Source: Instagram; Vix New Age Hipster @newagehipster333. 

However you feel about Likes, be it a source of satisfaction or of comparison, what is certain is that the digital landscape of Likes is about to change once more. What I hope to see is more people posting for love, rather than for Likes; love for what they have to share, and who they have to share it with, rather than sharing unconsciously for validation by numbers, or not sharing because of feeling unseen by a lack of Likes.

I hope that this change will raise the standard of content we see online, and result in less posts in our timelines by content creators posting to feed an algorithm rather than build relationships. Ultimately leaving Instagram to feel less competitive and more inclusive, this will encourage everyone, not just those deemed as ‘Influencers’, to share with each other more authentically.