Have you ever uploaded a picture on Instagram and been disappointed that it didn’t receive as many likes as you hoped for? Well you’re not alone. 20 year old business student, Zuzanna Kowalczyk, experiences these feelings often. As she lounges on her bed, she scrolls through Instagram double tapping away, the screen filling with white hearts. She comes across a famous Instagram influencers picture, zooming into the picture of the young female looking flawless in a bikini on a beautiful island. She hesitates before double tapping. 23,545 likes. That is a lot of likes, why can’t we all get that many likes?
I find myself doing the same thing alongside her, scrolling through Instagram catching up on the latest uploads: flawless models posing in an exotic location, influencers in flashy cars with flashy designer gear, the list does go on. All pictures with thousands upon thousands of likes. I decided to ask Zuzanna how Instagram likes made her feel. She expresses “I want to say Instagram likes don’t affect me, but I would be lying to myself. When I don’t get a lot of likes it makes me feel a little insecure.” As a young female she constantly finds herself comparing her looks to others on Instagram, justifying the lack of likes because of the way she looks.
Instagram likes are a huge part of the social media platform. The platform has grown exponentially, since the birth of the platform in 2010. It now has over 1 billion active users. 500 million users are on Instagram every day uploading pictures, sending memes to one another, liking others pictures and videos, the list goes on. The sole purpose people use Instagram are 77% of users viewing photos and videos and 45% of those sharing content with everyone. So, they would expect to get likes as a result of uploading. The dominant age group that utilise Instagram are 18 to 34 year olds. Now within this age range there are 20 million more men than women that use Instagram. I hope these numbers create an image in your mind as to just how many widespread the platform actually is. With social media platforms like Instagram, there is an expectation to achieve a certain number of likes on each post. But why do we have this mentality?
How does the likes algorithm on Instagram work? Why do we see pictures with a large number of likes? The likes algorithm works by placing pictures on a user’s timeline and recommended page if Instagram thinks they’ll ‘like’ the picture. This will be based on analysing a user’s past behaviour on content and predict what they will go onto ‘liking’. If a picture has more likes, the algorithm is made aware of the success of the post, which leads to more people viewing it. Which means it gets even more likes according to Later (Link). Notice the snowball effect? So, what is the problem with the like’s algorithm? Well, it is increasingly causing feelings of low self-esteem, whereby the young users on Instagram are finding themselves comparing their likes to others. By being exposed to posts that have amazing engagement on Instagram, users like Zuzanna will find themselves comparing their posts questioning why they’re not receiving the same number of likes. It then leads to feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness, having an impact on our mental health.
So, what’s being done to change the current situation? Well Instagram have shared their plans to remove likes on the platform completely and see how this will impact their active users. This is currently being tested out in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil. This is all part of trying to get “people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about.” Adam Mosseri, the Instagram Chief reported to the BBC news. By removing this algorithm, it will enable the young audience on Instagram to feel less stressed about what they post and utilise Instagram differently. This is currently only a trial which will be happening during this year. But the question is what if this becomes permanent?
Some are bothered about the algorithmic change becoming permanent, including 22 year old Kane who is an upcoming music artist that uses Instagram to promote himself. I inform him of the recent news that Instagram have announced of their plans to test out a ‘like-less’ Instagram and he looks at me in confusion. “I don’t see the problem with Instagram likes? As I’m an upcoming music artist, likes encourage and motivate me to upload more and show off my talent. I know my timeline is filled with artists that get thousands of more likes than me, but all it does is make me want to achieve the same.” It seems as though some users like Kane do not see the algorithm as an issue but more of a healthy competition especially amongst the creative field. I then ask him if we were to remove the creative aspects and if his selfies were not doing well on Instagram in comparison to others, how would he feel. He looks up from his phone whilst coincidently scrolling through Instagram and says “Yeah, I think I would be a little more self-conscious and would wonder why people are not liking my posts as much.” It seems as though users like Kane are not directly thinking about how Instagram likes affect their mental health but rather subconsciously.
Instagram are aware of the effects the likes algorithm has on their users. Users are feeling more anxious and self-conscious when comparing the number of likes they achieve in comparison to others. It seems as though we require validation from others in the form of a double tap on our post. So will a ‘like-less’ instagram help, or do we need to take a break from social media and be comfortable in ourselves before sharing with the online world?