Last month at the WIRED25 Conference, Instagram CEO Adam Monsseri revealed his plan to remove the option to like content on the social media app. The plan, Monsseri argues, is an effort to make Instagram a “safe space for young people.” The drastic move seeks to lessen the pressure to create content for the sole intention of getting likes. The expected outcome is the denouncement of the Like-system used as a means of determining someone’s worth as a digital creative. With over 1 billion active users worldwide, the social media platform is one of the most used applications in the cyber world and credits much of its success to the Double Tap feature. Many users of the app comment that the option to seamlessly scroll through pictures of their friends, favorite artists and pages is superior to scrolling through and reading the countless text-based ‘status updates’ that are the focal point of other major social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
The new update will not erase the option to like pictures entirely but rather hide like counts seen under posts by followers. Users will still be able to see who like their photos, but the count will only be seen in a new list found under the “Others” tab on their posts. The mission of the update is to drive focus on building connections in the app without the bias of determining someone’s digital worth based on how many likes they get on their posts. The update has already rolled out to several international markets since November 14, 2019. However, the biggest test of the new update will be the US market, where Instagram has accumulated over 110 million users. In the new digital age, the influence of social media in the professional world has skyrocketed.
Social media experts anticipate that the social media influencer market will become a $6.5 billion industry, with many businesses looking for the top social media figures to promote their products and drive engagement. Megastars such as Kylie Jenner, bring in about $1 million for a single, Instagram post. So, it is no surprise that Monsseri’s decision to launch the new update was met with backlash from creatives who have built their businesses on the app. Peter DeLuce, who has gained over 10,000 followers for his space-themed art, argues that “Likes are a good metric to prove your art is high quality – that there is a validation of your ideas and content. Without likes, recognition in the art world returns to who you know or subjective elitist tastes.” In countries where the update has already taken effect, a study from analytics firm HypeAuditor found that likes fell 3% to 15% for influencers with 5,000 to 20,000 followers.
On the other hand, some experts are arguing that the drop in the number of likes is not comparable to the effects the small change can have on the mental health of many young users. Child psychologist Dr. Cheryl Zeigler, states “If they post something and it didn’t get a lot of likes they literally beat themselves up. Having people a little less addicted to ding, ding, you`ve got likes…will only do good.” Over recent years, the goal of Instagram has become a contest on who can gain the most likes, social virality meaning social recognition as well as real-life perks from businesses who want to cash in on that fame. This has pushed young users to think outside of the box and try to create content that will be their ticket to fame. The desire has manifested itself in recording videos of oneself performing daring, and sometimes dangerous, acts and posting pictures that play on current trends and controversial ideas in an effort to drive traffic to their page.
The move, I believe is a positive one. The option to buy likes and the existence of bots masquerading as people online has stripped the like-system of validity and discredits its use as a way to measure social engagement. Analysts believe that the new move will encourage businesses, instead of discouraging them, into constructing new models that look at comments and page views instead of likes to determine how socially marketable an influence is. Creatives who are in favor of the change believe that it will create a more even playing field between newer, less notable users and those who have the public’s attention. Now users will be judged solely on the content of their posts and how many people are actually interacting with them by dropping comments under posts and watching their videos. Under the Like system, creatives whose sole stake at spreading the word about their work through Instagram often have to rely on giving away their products for free to other influencers who receive a high like count. Now, this new change gives them an equal opportunity to gain business based on their talent, not their likability.