If Likes No Longer Matter on Social Media, Then What Does?

Social Media Source: Wikimedia You’ve probably heard the news: Instagram is in the process of removing like counts from posts in the Instagram feed. The move has been criticised by many, but some users see an opportunity for more creativity and less judgment. After all, technology has reinvented what it means to be alive so utterly that Black Mirror still hasn’t run out of episodes. The new world isn’t all grim and dark, though. Nowadays technology makes possible for us to have the world in our hands. From paying the rent to killing time by joining the casino while we wait for that friend who is always late. But when our mental health depends on a "like" in the last photo published, the problem begins.

Magical Moods and Dopamine Highs

For the average Millennial, the world revolves around a complex network of likes. Clicks are tiny bubbles of bliss, and they aren't just made out of pixels. Magical things happen to your brain when you get a like on Instagram. Your body releases dopamine, and the unpredictability of the like-seeking process makes every red Instagram heart strangely addictive. For millions, those delicious hormone surges may have to end here. Instagram is testing a new like-free future -- a move that may break the internet even more than Kim Kardashian’s champagne photograph managed. The new formula hides the number of likes a post racks up in a bid to change the culture of the platform. Australia is the social network’s current testing ground, and its users are already experiencing what may soon become universal.

The Truth About the New Instagram Biome

Instagram isn’t planning to shed its likes entirely, only diminish them. Australian Instagram users can still see a list of likes. It’s only the total number that’s being dropped for now. The site has become a click farm for the gorgeous and popular, and it’s breeding a culture of validation. The Ariana Grandes and Selena Gomezes of the internet feed Josephine Average an unrealistic expectation of what it means to be normal. Today’s "ordinary" person hikes in Chanel, holidays in France, and makes a home on Madison Avenue. He proposes below the Eiffel Tower (wearing Versace and sporting a trendy undercut.) The happy couple doesn’t fly to Italy to taste the wine, but to get that coveted Instagram photograph from a Venetian gondola. For those who can’t travel to all the right places and do all the right things, life can feel a little underwhelming. What was good enough in the Eighties is woefully deficient in the Noughties, and Instagram wants to shake that culture. The network recently introduced two anti-bullying features, and its impending likes purge can be seen as an extension of that effort. The network wants its users to post freely without fearing judgement. Instagram Source: Wikimedia

Insta-land and Web-lebrities

The world expected an alien invasion post-2000, but it got an influencer invasion instead. The weblebrity landscape has attracted plenty of bad press of late. This year's journalists have blamed influencers for everything from viral Instagram hoaxes to ruined mountaintops. As micro-influencers chase their 10 pixels of fame, they’re leaving famous selfie spots a little worse for wear. Natural heritage doesn’t matter when there are millions of likes to chase, you know. Instagram isn’t anti-technology; it’s anti-judgement. Its new policy may invite authenticity back online and, in so doing, reattract the audience that made their platform as successful as it is today. See it as turning back the clock to a pre-Pierson era when you put up a picture because you liked it and not because a thousand others might click on it -- when you climbed the mountain because of the view from the top and not because you could become the view for a million followers. New Zealand director of policy, Mia Garlick, wants users to share the things they love, and not share to become the thing other people love.

Putting a Finer Point on the Change

Instagram’s choice is unintentionally poetic. It’s not removing likes; it’s removing the total figure attached to them. In doing so, it may, at last, begin serving people instead of numbers. Influencer Land has its own economy, and it’s swallowed everything in its path. Even so, the response to the trial has been overwhelmingly negative, with many Twitter users accusing the network of mollycoddling. Influencers have a different concern: their bank accounts. With no numbers to display, they may lose the brands who pay them to be influential. The marketing beast is always hungry, but we feed it at our peril. Still, this particular marketing beast may not lose its fodder. Influencers are already asking their followers to leave comments instead of likes so that their popularity remains visible. Follower numbers remain untouched, leaving the weblebrity machine with enough petrol to keep on marching. Maybe even Instagram knows who butters its bread or maybe it genuinely wants to become a healthier place. It doubled its ad revenue in 2018, a number set to grow to nearly 100 billion by 2022, so it seems, for a change, as though the marketing beast is being silenced for principle rather than profit.

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