Is Instagram’s move to hide the number of likes a post receives the proper fix for the damage the platform has caused?
Since early November, some Instagram users may have noticed that they can no longer view how many likes others’ posts have received. This is the aftermath of a worldwide, months-long project intended to “depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition,” Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said. Although Instagram’s intentions seem noble, removing the ability to see likes is not enough to counteract the platform’s debilitating effects on self-esteem and other mental health issues. These issues are often perpetuated by the posts themselves, which present heavily edited highlight reels that users then use as a basis of comparison for their own lives.
Other factors such as Instagram’s algorithms contribute to the issue by creating a positive feedback loop between likes and users’ feeds, prioritizing the most liked posts in a vicious cycle of comparing and despairing. These algorithms favor the posts that portray the most unattainable standards of beauty and success, and removing likes fails to address this problem. Furthermore, under the current solution, creators can still view how many likes they receive on their own posts — a feature that lies at the heart of social media’s competitive nature. When Instagram users can still see the number of likes on their own posts, they continue to crave the validation that comes from large or increasing numbers of likes; consequently, they strive to emulate the ideal images that other popular users post.
While retouching photos is not inherently bad, the prevalence of overly curated photos on Instagram, especially involving people’s bodies, becomes a problem when it leads viewers to believe that they must achieve the same flawless looks, which are actually the aftermath of countless edits and filters. The posts themselves have a much more severe impact on self-esteem than their likes and views; if Instagram truly wants to depressurize the app, it needs to address this aspect. In providing a medium for these idealistic posts, the platform has systematically crushed users’ self-worth and now has an obligation to take greater measures to support mental health.
Combating the platform’s competitive nature requires an honest discussion about mental health and Instagram’s popularity culture. While mental health issues are too broad to tackle through one decisive initiative, Instagram can and should do more than simply hide the number of likes on posts. For example, it can reintroduce the reverse-chronological feed; under this policy, all content would be organized by date of posting, not relevancy. This system would counteract the obvious bias in its app that currently bumps posts with higher engagement statistics such as likes and comments to the top of users’ feeds, worsening the already constant cycle of comparison by favoring often unrealistic posts.
Part of the reason why Instagram uses a feed algorithm is to maximize its own profit; seeing more popular content in their feeds prompts social media users to stay on the app for longer durations of time, engaging with more influencer and sponsored content in the process. While it is not inherently wrong for Instagram to pursue capital gains through these means, it must recognize that this gain comes at the expense of its thousands of users’ health. Reverting to a chronological interface is a step toward repairing the deeply-ingrained culture of social media comparisons and taking responsibility for consumers’ well-being.
Additionally, Instagram can display a general message on its app declaring that some posts may be edited, perhaps through a banner at the top of the interface or a pop-up that users must accept each time they open the app. This measure would provide a reality check, discouraging comparisons and reminding users that the photos they see may not tell the whole story. Companies like Instagram, as well as society as a whole, must address mental health in a long-term way through meaningful discussions about self-esteem in order to promote a healthier, more transparent social media culture.
Cover photo courtesy of 9to5mac.com
Note: The Instagram post and accounts are not real. The accounts are not meant to represent real accounts of respective students, and the usernames are in the format of FirstLastName_Grade.