Social media is a great tool and source of entertainment. It's changed the world. It's broken down geographical barriers, allowed people to easily share their lives with friends and acquaintances, changed politics in a big way, and contributed to awareness for movements and causes, just to name a few things. Social media platforms have also become huge for advertising and marketing.
According to Statista, a German online database company, the average person spent 135 minutes (almost two and a half hours) daily on social media in 2017. That's an increase from 126 minutes in 2016, a continuing trend. Based on an average lifespan of 72 years, that means humans will currently spend over 6 years of their lives on social media. The number and types of platforms has continued to grow, starting with the early birds like YouTube and Facebook. Later came Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, to name the most popular channels.
Before analyzing Instagram's decision to start hiding likes, let's set the stage by discussing some of the pros and cons of social media. This will help us understand the motives behind their decision.
Has social media been a good or bad thing?
This is a pretty interesting question. Like most things, there's probably no black and white "good" or "bad" answer. There's some good, and some bad. The bottom line is it's what you make of it. Let's look at some of the pros and cons.
Positive effects of social media
Connecting people and helping them keep up with others
This is one of the most obvious benefits. Social media opens up opportunities for keeping up with friends and family, especially those who live far away and you don't see regularly. It's also a great way to meet new people. On platforms like Facebook or Instagram, you can see the friends of your friends, or you may find you have mutual friends you didn't realize. A lot of successful romantic relationships have started through social media. When you follow people online, you can see what's going on in their lives and be aware of them during periods when you may not be able to see them.
Helping businesses, especially small ones
Social media is a great resource for advertising to easily reach a large number of people. It's especially helpful for small businesses and startups who need to get their name out there, and don't have some of the advertising tools that larger companies posses.
Education and information
Social media is an abundance of information and a place where you can learn and be informed. If you want to learn how to do something, YouTube probably has a video on it. Facebook is great for news and current events, and there's Twitter if you want to follow conversations.
Negative effects of social media
Distractor and time sapper
Anyone who uses social media knows it can be very distracting and time-consuming if use is not managed properly. Social media is actually designed to pull you in and keep you engaged, so it can be a trap. It's also designed to induce pleasure and make you feel good, which is why many people find it so addictive. The distraction can especially be a problem in the workplace. It can also decrease your connection with others while with them in person, if you're constantly on your phone.
Fake news and other misinformation
Social media makes information readily accessible, but the reality is a lot of it can be false information. Social media means you no longer have to be a prominent newspaper to report on current events. The online world makes it easier to spread misinformation, especially since it can be shared and spread so quickly.
Constant comparing and social media image
A lot of people have a social media image, but that's often not the real them. Social media increases the possibility of people being superficial or faking it, which isn't good for them or the people watching. It also leads to a lot of comparing. Examples of this comparing include how many friends or followers you have versus someone else, how many likes or comments, how people look, or the interesting or boring lives they "seem" to have. Unhealthy comparing and competition is the reason Instagram has been testing out hiding likes.
Yes, Instagram is hiding likes
They've been testing this out in countries around the world, starting with Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand. Now the test trial is being expanded into the US. Soon, certain users will no longer be able to see how many likes other people are getting on their posts.
Some of the media is making it sound like you won't be able to see how many likes your posts receive. That's not true though. All users will still see how many likes they are getting on their own posts, but the number of likes on other users' posts will no longer be visible. This makes sense, because after all, getting likes on your photos and videos is kind of half the fun.
The intent is clear. Instagram is attempting to depressurize Instagram and make it a less competitive environment. A lot of social media users can fall into the trap of comparing how much attention their posts are getting to others, and associating that with their self worth (usually subconsciously). Social media platforms like Instagram are heavily geared toward validation and approval. Getting few likes and then seeing a friend's post explode can make people feel lousy.
You have to admire Instagram for taking action here. They're setting an example by addressing the negative impacts of social media. Influencers, celebrities, and businesses are concerned that their posts will receive less attention, as seeing a large number of likes on a post attracts more attention. CEO Adam Mosseri responded with a statement: "We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people's well-being and health."
To be fair, Instagram probably has their own business interests in mind as well. More and more reports are coming out linking social media to depression and other mental health issues. It's smart from a business perspective for Instagram to address these concerns in an attempt to improve the platform's public image.
Should I still care about likes?
You'll still be able to see how many likes your own posts are getting, so nothing changes there. That's not all though.
A lot of people will like a post because of pressure from friends or society. With likes being hidden, a lot of that goes away, so people will probably use likes less often. This means that when users like something, you can be more certain that their approval is sincere. That makes likes more valuable. This is especially helpful for business users of Instagram, who look at the number of likes they receive to estimate the level of approval and interest from consumers.
Also, social media platforms like Instagram use your likes to determine what ads and other content to display on your feed, so you can still influence that with what content you like.