Instagram’s removal of “likes” will help us “like” ourselves


Illustration by Kalyn Dawes

Katie Parsons

When the news struck, everyone went into a frenzy. “Are they really removing “likes” on the app?” “What will happen to my account?” It was almost as if someone was stripping people of their identities.

On Nov. 8, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced at Wired25, a summit talk hosted by the company Wired, that the popular app would begin testing the removal of “likes” in the United States. The company had been discussing the possibility since April 2019 and began to implement it in July 2019 in countries like New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil. According to Mosseri, by removing “likes,” he hopes to improve users’ experiences on the app.

“[Removing ‘likes’] is about creating a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves,” Mosseri said, according to Wired.

“Likes” have integrated themselves into our daily lives, and many have taken note that with each “like” they receive, it makes them feel better. This is because “likes” are proven to have physiological impacts on the human brain, according to Dr. Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD, the Executive Director for Northern California at Newport Academy, a teenage rehabilitation center. 

“Receiving a ‘like’ on social media feels good and produces a physiological high by triggering our ‘reward cycle.’ This rush or good feeling is due to dopamine,” Dragonette said in a Bustle article.

Instagram is one of the most popular apps in today’s society. According to Instagram, there are over 1 billion monthly users, 4.2 billion “likes” per day and 72 percent of teenagers use Instagram. 

Because teens have grown up using social media, they have become reliant on the number of “likes” they get, often relating to body image. According to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh in 2018, participants who spent more time on social media had 2.6 times the risk of reporting eating disorders and/or body image concerns compared to their peers who spent less time on social media. The study also found that those who spent more time on social media were more likely to have sleeping issues and report symptoms of depression.

The influence social media apps have in our culture is immeasurable and affects not only social status but also social wellbeing. As reported by TIME, the 2017 #StatusOfMind study determined that the popular photo-sharing app was commonly associated with growing levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and a “fear of missing out.” In a Bark survey conducted in December, 58 percent of the students self-reported that Instagram removing “likes” will benefit teens’ health. 

As a user of social media myself, I have had first-hand experience with the pressures brought on by comparing myself to others on apps. The choice made by Instagram to remove “likes” is a step in the right direction; I’m hopeful it will remove the pressure “likes” inflict on the minds of users. Although one can still see the number of “likes” they receive on personal publications, the number is invisible to viewers of the post. This will reduce the sense of competition among users to gain more “likes” than others. 

However, the change caused major backlash from social media influencers and celebrities, such as Niki Manaj and Cardi B. A common argument is that by Instagram removing “likes” from their media platform, the jobs of influencers will be negatively impacted, for much of their support and popularity is demonstrated through the “likes” on their content. According to Statista, a provider of market and consumer data, in 2019 there were over 4.95 million brand-sponsored influencer Instagram posts. From each post, influencers can make anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 depending on their following and follower activity, according to Vox.

 Many fear that with the removal of “likes,” the booming industry of influencers will degrade. While it may seem that way, influencers will still be able to view activity on their account and use it to give to marketers. Although removing “likes” may have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the platform for influencers, the psychological wellbeing of the users should triumph above all. 

It is indisputable that our society today has been impacted by the social habits that have sprung from the creation of social media. While removing “likes” may be a small step toward a better social life, Instagram is a leader in which many other social networks should strive to follow in its path. I begin to wonder, are the hearts on the screen more important than the ones in our body?