How Much Do We Like “Likes”?

We live in a society that is fueled by content. We are storytellers, and we use this content to manifest images of ourselves, ones which can be accurate or inaccurate, of course. But there is an evident tension between the quality and quantity of content, particularly when Instagram enters the picture. We find security and validation in quantity, through the amount of likes we all receive, and we depend on strong quality of content to make this whole machine work. The new Instagram update, however, has something new in store for us, where we are becoming deprived of quantity entirely with a seemingly sudden shift to quality. Instagram has taken away the display of “likes” on other users’ posts. We’re being used, essentially, as a psychological experiment. The question is: Is this better or worse for us? Can we live without our likes?

Almost  all of us have been guilty at some point of dedicating energy towards the amount of likes that we, or other, receive. Instagram enforces this effort to see if the elimination of likes will alleviate any anxieties created through comparison via social media. There is a pervasive anxiety of feeling as if your content is insufficient if it does not receive “enough likes or comments,” or when someone else’s content becomes more noticed than yours, or when you want to post at a certain time with a certain filter to maximize your likes. Taking away likes can diminish these insecurities, focusing less on an outward perspective and instead on an inward one. Specifically, for influencers, Instagram hopes for them to veer away from numerical competition and enhance their content quality. But I have mixed feelings about this, because now there will be a competition in quality, where people won’t even need numbers to make comparisons. Yet, on the other hand, we can now focus on posting quality-oriented content. In theory, anyway.

Instagram likes can be deemed as a source of reassurance and a reinforcement of self-esteem. It is a number that essentially does not matter, and a lot of attention is reserved for the quantity element of content. I decided to ask some Colgate students what their opinion is regarding Instagram taking away likes. One student quoted, “Taking away likes is better because likes were a measure to compare yourself to others and could be damaging to self esteem.” Another student said, “I think it is better to take away likes because it allows you to focus on the content of what people are posting, and people could feel more comfortable posting what they want to actually post, rather than pictures they think will get a lot of likes.” Another student wondered, “If people will find a new standard to compare themselves with others, such as the amount of comments.” These comments struck me, because it shows how people acknowledge the unhealthy perception of likes, yet our society still becomes engulfed by this universal anxiety. I personally think that Instagram should go through with taking away likes, because it seems to morph the mindsets of social media users and cause them to care so much about something that is simply irrelevant. Instagram is a platform for sharing content, and I feel as if people should freely post whatever content they feel reflects them authentically and that they are confident in this content. Social media should be a space for bringing people up, rather than bringing them down. So what do likes really bring to the table? I am tentative, however, as to where the attention will shift now. Will people veer their attention towards the quantity of comments, or will quality content rise to the surface?

For influencers, this is a situation that they perceive as the commencement of a crisis. Nicki Minaj has already declared that she will stop posting on Instagram if this update reaches all phones. Many influencers are heavily dependent on the platform for their careers and incomes, and if likes are taken away, this may put their careers at stake. Influencers may be subject to receiving less money for posts, and finding alternate routes to garner profit. Some influencers buy likes, in order to compete with other users in what could appear to be a popularity contest. 64 percent of influencers did admit to buying likes, and likes have clearly become a bad metric that is easily manipulated. Now, influencers will be obliged to shift focus to another metric that they can build upon and weed out third party users. Do you think influencers will be completely weeded out? We shall see!