Social media has been deeply integrated within our everyday lives, that some even regard it as a basic necessity nowadays. Different platforms have advantages and disadvantages. One thing they all have in common though, is their reported effect on users’ mental health. According to a 2017 study, Instagram, in particular, had “the most negative psychological impact on users than any other social media platform, affecting young girls in particular,” Big Think reports.
In response to this, Instagram is actively trying to change their platform. The social media platform has already recently redesigned users’ profiles to make the number of followers less prominent. Now, they’re trying a new thing.
I’m sure you’ve heard of it: Instagram has announced that it is experimenting with an updated version of the app. In the trial, the number of likes will not be visible by default. While users will be able to see who and how many like their own posts, they will not be able to see the number of likes on other users’ posts. Although, they are able to see which users liked the photo, so there’s still a way to know the like count. Essentially, you’ll have to manually do it, if you’re really determined to know the exact number.
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri revealed, “Stories was, in part, the inspiration for this test” and said that Instagram is considering hiding the metrics altogether— who and how many people view them. He also explained that the goal is for the platform to have a “less pressurised environment.” Speaking at Facebook’s annual software developer conference, he said the company was aware people were regularly concerned about how many likes their posts got. “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” he said. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition.”
Although the trial will only affect Canadian users at the moment, the company may extend the trial, depending on their findings.
This is definitely a big deal, and there are so many things to consider. Like the fact that Instagram has become a way for businesses and certain individuals (yep, influencers) to thrive. But let’s forget about those for a second and focus on the root of the problem; the very reason they decided to implement the trial.
Research shows that likes as a metric can lead to social comparison, which can affect self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. The 2017 report which ranked Instagram as the worst among social media platforms in terms of psychological impact on users, also found that social media is “more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.” This can be attributed to the fact that, according to experts, receiving likes on social media posts produces dopamine, the chemical associated with pleasure. Yup, that’s why you literally feel elated with each like and search for more.
But will hiding the number of likes really solve the problem on mental health? Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University, tells Global News that actually, it “probably won’t reduce the negative effects tied to excess social media use.” She explains, “Maybe the company has done some research internally… and [has] found that holding back that information will help with social anxiety a bit, but any change brings some type of effect. We could end up in a situation where maybe anxiety around posting decreases a little bit, which then increases time spent on the app because [users] feel a little more cloaked or protected.”
Jennifer said that the move “may also encourage users to share more photos, which in turn increases the amount of user data Instagram will have access to.” She said, “We have to view most product updates in the lens of ‘the corporation is going to do what’s good for the corporation.”
Not to mention, Big Think points out that “it wouldn’t address other social-comparison problems that emerge from using the platform like social exclusion, bullying, fear of missing out, and feeling physically inadequate as a result of the ubiquity of selfie filters.”
Randi Priluck, a professor and associate dean at Pace University focused on social media and mobile marketing, moreover told CNN that though teenagers “would no longer highlight levels of popularity of themselves against other kids,” on the other hand, “They’re still going to see their own likes. People are very driven by rewards so they’re still going to be competing for those likes. It’s not going to fully solve the problem.”
Ultimately, Jennifer said that while it’s important app companies do their part in addressing mental health concerns, in the end, it’s still up to users to find ways to take care of their well-being. One way she suggests they do it is by reducing time spent on social media. She adds that though “it has become second nature to share aspects of our lives online,” it’s not necessary for users to do it.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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