Some Instagram users may have scrolled through their feed this morning and discovered that they are not able to see the number of “likes” on posts. This is because the platform is testing private like counts globally, and if you’re part of the test, you will only be able to see your own likes and views on photos and videos.
Instagram boss Adam Mosseri said the testing only affected “a small portion” of the platform worldwide and though it is not clear how long the testing will last, Instagram says the feedback from early testing in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand has been positive.
I was first alerted to the changes late last night in one of my group chats as the girls were eager to share their thoughts.
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“An instant relief,” one friend described it. I felt the same, which was strange to me because I never counted myself as someone who was affected by it.
Not everyone is in support of the potential changes to abandon the likes feature. Rapper Nicki Minaj threatened to boycott the platform if the changes were implemented, claiming that it was another way for the platform to make money.
In a Instagram live to her 107 million followers she said: “They don’t want you to go off on the side forming all sorts of businesses and being able to say I get this amount of likes and charging brands, they want you to have to pay them.”
I would argue that this just means brands will have to focus on the quality of content as opposed to just working with whatever influencer has the most likes, which doesn’t always translate to good engagement.
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And I’m particularly worried about the pressures facing young people, who are growing up in a world where Instagram has always existed. Likes become a social currency, and a lot of young people judge their own value by this currency too.
Whilst I was working as the editor of a youth publication called Live Magazine, I vividly remember a conversation with two young girls who told me they had to get at least one like per minute on an Instagram post in order for it to “perform well” and if they didn’t get 100 likes within an hour they would delete it out of embarrassment.
There are all sorts of absurd, unwritten social media rules young people are following. For example some won’t post themselves in the same outfit twice and it would of course be equally unheard of to wear something to an event that has been seen on your feed.
Despite the lack of research at the time, I wrote about my concerns in Gemma Cairney’s book, “Open: A toolkit for how magic and messed up life can be”:
“Unfortunately many of us place value on how many likes we get and how many people are following us across social media. So many young people (and adults) are chasing ideals of beauty that only exist after multiple filters have been applied and we are allowing brands to capitalise every day on insecurities we didn’t even know we had.”
In the latest of ridiculous trends we are airbrushing our knuckles to make them look as smooth as possible and as social media influencer Sara Tasker pointed out, it makes your fingers “look like hotdogs”.
Just last month Instagram removed all augmented reality (AR) filters that promoted cosmetic surgery due to fears that it was having a negative effect on people’s mental health.
A 2017 report which looked at what was influencing young people to consider cosmetic procedures found that the rising levels of “body dissatisfaction” was associated with but not limited to the increased use of the rating of images on social media, for example through “likes”, as well as celebrity culture, airbrushed images and makeover shows.
I have nothing against cosmetic surgery. I do however take issue with the fact that the platform is able to tamper with young people’s insecurities. Fashions come and go, and certain beauty trends only last a month or two, however the decisions young people are making are permanent and in some cases dangerous.
The changes to the “likes” feature will certainly not solve all of Instagram’s problems but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s vitally important that we continue to normalise imagery of all body types through body positivity movements whilst accepting ourselves, flaws and all.
Oh and do yourself a favour: log out every now and then!
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