Instagram is testing a new feature of ditching likes in Canada. The change seems to stem from a growing belief that ‘like-counts’ are harmful for users’ mental health. So, this new policy could be beneficial for our well-being.
‘Like-Counts’ & Mental Health
Research has shown just how toxic social media is on your mental health, and the effects are no secret. The Royal Social Public Health report says that “social media may be fueling a mental health crisis” in young people. This is because many social media platforms, like Instagram, create an atmosphere where we, as users, only showcase the best aspects of our lives. Talk about pressure. Our uploaded posts are then numerically rated (by like-counts) on the same level as content posted by professional models and celebrities. Getting likes can be a source of self-esteem for some. It can also be pretty stressful.
“How’s your pic doing??”
“She gets no likes…”
“Like my pic!”
“It’s getting no likes. I’m deleting it.” — we hear this ALL the time.
“We do hear people worry about how many like counts they get.”
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Instagram, otherwise I wouldn’t have it. I think it’s a great way for people to express themselves. However, I do find that the ever-growing ‘like-count’ nature has made it more stressful than it needs to be…
The ‘like-count’ model causes us to constantly compare ourselves to our ‘friends’ on the social platform. Ultimately this affects our emotional well-being, especially when we mistakenly conclude we aren’t “good enough” compared to others. As we were reminded by The Egg That Broke the Internet, it’s important to be aware of the pressures of social media on mental health.
Your Brain on Instagram
In a study preformed at UCLA, researchers measured adolescents’ behavioural and neural responses to likes, defining them as “a quantifiable form of social endorsement and potential source of peer influence.” The scientists found that subjects were more likely to engage with a photo with more likes, illustrating the “influence of virtual peer endorsement.” With brain imaging techniques, they also showed that when subjects were viewing photos with many likes, there was “greater activity in neural regions implicated in reward processing, social cognition, imitation, and attention.” So, how did Instagram try to tackle this biologically hard-wired mental health issue?
New Update: ‘Hidden Likes’
A few years ago Instagram increased their efforts in prioritizing mental health by introducing Instagram Stories to decrease the pressure of receiving likes. This update created a gentler version of Instagram, giving “a low-pressure alternative to Instagram’s high-pressure photo feed.” It gives you the opportunity to still share a post, but without having to stress with how it will perform. However, this didn’t completely eliminate the high-pressure mental health issue. The new ‘Hidden-Likes’ update enhances the standing purpose to “decrease pressure” by eliminating the root its cause—like-count. The logic behind it is simple: by eliminating the pressure of ‘numerical rating’ on Instagram, users will be less likely to form those demoralizing social comparisons that are harmful to their mental health.
“During this test, only the person who shared a post will see the total number of likes it gets.”
Instagram’s Adam Mosseri stated that the hidden-like feature was set up in order to create a “less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.” The app’s new approach takes in concerns of mental well-being to (hopefully) decrease the social comparison and competition brought on by like-counts.
“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.”
Even after just a couple months with this new update, some Instagram users state they are posting more, without the built up anxiety they used to feel about how the post would perform in likes. People are focusing less on the pressure of competition and comparison, and more on using Instagram as a platform for self-expression, it’s intended use. I’ll even admit, with the new update, I care less about what ‘exact’ picture I’m going to post. It’s early days of this update, but it’s a lot more freeing to not have that extra pressure.
So, given the negative effects ‘likes’ have on our mental health, could this ‘like-free’ Instagram really benefit our mental health? It is certainly a step in the right direction.