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Hiding Instagram likes a path to a more authentic platform

OPINION
By Sandra Suzanne Buyole | November 21st 2019
Sandra Suzanne Buyole

Adam Mosseri, Instagram CEO recently announced that the social platform will be rolling out a test to hide likes on posts and videos, a move that is already being tested in various countries.

I am incidentally part of this test and it is, therefore, safe to say that the test is already happening in Kenya too. Users who are part of the test like I am will no longer see the total number of likes on photos and videos in their Instagram feeds.

However, they will still be able to see how many likes their posts received. Well, this has been long overdue and I hope this test is scaled across the globe to the over 500 million daily users on Instagram.

Instagram is rolling out this test to depressurize the youth from validating themselves based on the number of likes they get. This is indeed such a good cause and not only does it lessen the pressure of Instagram users but positively impacts on the well being of users on this platform. 

Mental health

Instagram and Snapchat have been ranked as the most detrimental to young people’s mental health and wellbeing according to Young Health Movement report. Adam Moserri aims to reverse this by hiding likes on posts and hopefully roll this out permanently. He hopes that this move will help people’s well being and health. Modern youth and Millenials have for a long time used Instagram, not for its intended purpose. While the platform is meant to inspire through images, many young people are using it to get social validation. So much so that they will go to the extent of digitally manipulating their photos to gain approval. 

Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people to the extent that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues. Hiding likes on this platform could help reduce depression and anxiety in teens who evaluate their self-worth primarily based on feedback from online followers or in comparing the number of likes their posts receive to their friends.  

Another psychological theory at play on social media according to Rachel Rodgers, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at Northeastern is social identity theory,  which holds that one of the ways that we gauge how well we're doing as individuals is by comparing our standing to other people on a number of traits, including appearance. Instagram is primarily an image platform, has caused many teens and the youth to use likes as a benchmark to compare themselves with others. While parents are raising young boys and girls to accept themselves for who they truly are, Instagram has made the youth feel like their appearance is not enough. Introduction of filters -a tool that allows you to digitally enhance your appearance -  promotes this by encouraging users to slightly alter their appearance to increase their likeability. Phasing out these filters should be the next step towards the platform building a safe space where everyone feels adequate to post anything and everything. Removing this metric is a great attempt to create a platform where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves.

Authentic content

This move may not be received well by brands and influencers, should it scale. Over time this forced change will bring a new dawn to influencer marketing and how we measure the success of a campaign. While most marketers and communication experts have measured engagement on Instagram based on likes and comments, this move will help us go beyond that. Moving away from such vanity metrics will challenge influencers to become more creative. Majority of users have admitted to liking a post due to others have liked it, or due to fear of missing out. While removing likes will deter the public from participating in vanity metrics, influencers now have a chance to build credible relationships with brands and become more creative. This change is good for the industry as it will help both influencers and brands look at metrics beyond likes. Metrics such as positive, negative or neutral sentiments in the comments, video completion rates and whether a video was viewed with sound or not will take center stage.

Overall, this test is a step towards a safer and happier space for the youth, brands and influencers. Whether or not Instagram wants both influencers and brands to spend more on Instagram advertisements as some may want to believe, the move will certainly lessen pressure and give room for everyone to express themselves freely and post whatever they wish without fear of being validated by likes. 

Sandra Suzanne Buyole is a Public Relations and communications practitioner.

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