Waiting for A Better Instagram
By Jaymee Palma Assistant Editor
A picture is worth a thousand words. This age-old adage is exemplified by Instagram, one of the world’s most popular social networking sites. Home to personal users, businesses, and influencers alike, Instagram has revolutionized communication and advertising. The phrase “Instagram-worthy” — referring to picture-perfect and “artsy” snapshots of mundane life — is now a common word among its users, and is the standard for posts on the platform. This has resulted in feeds that seem to paint a picture of perfect lives. Scrolling through Instagram has become a daily habit of most people. This then leads to the question of how Instagram’s filtered (un)reality affects mental health. Numerous studies have indicated that social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram deepen feelings of insecurity and anxiety.
In a surprisingly bold move to address these mental health concerns, Instagram has begun removing the like counts for US users in November. The CEO Adam Mosseri explained that “the idea is to try and depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.” Users can still see the number of likes on their posts, and followers can still see the names of the users who liked a particular post — just not the all-defining number that we are all used to.
This change has been met with a cautious thumbs-up from mental health professionals, and a whole lot of outrage and controversy from aspiring artists and the influencer community. Likes are one of the currencies that Instagram runs on; more likes pertains to more popularity and thus, more success. The effectiveness of the content that influencers and budding artists produce is judged based on the number of likes, and this number often directly translates into income. However, it is not a secret that likes are not a reliable metric anymore. The use of fake bots for engagements and buying likes are rampant practices on Instagram, especially in the influencer industry. And besides, content creators can still see the number of likes that each post gets, and thus have an internal guide to improve post quality. Removing this number from the public eye has the potential to remove toxic and unhelpful popularity comparisons, letting creatives focus on individual expression and authenticity instead of catering to popular appeal.
Hiding the number of likes also has positive effects for the general public, especially on the youth. The younger generations who have grown up with Instagram have never known a world without likes, and thus have the most to gain. The way Instagram is used today is as a platform for social comparison; seeing people with more glamorous vacations, better looking bodies, and thousands of likes per post can surely make you question your own position in life. Removing likes may go a long way to detoxifying the Instagram experience. It may even bring back the original mission of Instagram, which is to “capture and share the world’s moments”. These moments should include not just the highly filtered ones that garner likes, but thought-provoking and personal posts as well.
Although Instagram’s decision is likened to slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound, it is at least a step in the right direction. Social media definitely has negative effects on mental health, and it is about time we do something about it. It’s too early to see the concrete effects, but it will be at least interesting to see how the use of Instagram shifts and how it impacts society. For now, all we can do is wait — and remember to never compare a filtered, edited Insta-life to messy, normal reality.
Cost of Creativity
By Jae Hwan Jeong Senior Staff Reporter
For those who haven’t seen Simon Sinek’s talk on millennials, here are some of the main takeaways: the youth of today, interchangeably addressed as millennials, are born into a society where instant gratification is made possible. We can do things so much faster, so much more effectively, with minimal to no risk. For these millennials, who dominate many of today’s social platforms, quantitative validation matters a lot — and there is no better way to offer this than through numbers of likes.
The recent change by Instagram goes against many of the practices sustained by tech giants that pander to the needs of the millennials. The company believes that granting more sovereignty to our choices can be achieved by making the like counts of posts not publicly visible. It is certainly intuitive to think that people may feel more freedom to be creative when made less wary of others’ opinions and judgement. However, the room for creativity is certainly still limited even with this change, as users can still see the like counts associated with the contents they uploaded. Also, for posts that others have made, one can still manually count the number of people who have liked the post.
The first case against Instagram’s idea is that the change simply makes the user experience more cumbersome. They should either disable the option to view likes entirely or keep the platform as is; there is no compelling argument to suggest that users won’t count away the likes anyways. These users are the same people who would pin lines of irrelevant hashtags that would bring in likes from strangers, risk their lives to film footage that would be more engaging for their followers, and even build a career as an influencer by regularly uploading popular content on their accounts. The change simply makes the task of visualizing approval much more tiresome.
The second case is predicated on the assumption that Instagram would soon realize the lack of significance in their first amended prototype, and remove the ability to view entirely. If that were to happen, Instagram would be doing very little to evolve itself as a social medium, instead relegating its platform to become no more than a photo archive. There are already many cloud services where you can put up videos and photos with sophisticated level of security to ensure that no one can see, or judge, your uploads. Instagram would only be exploiting its user pool to emulate cliché environments.
Even with some appropriate changes to visualize approval metrics that are less influenced by the majority opinion, the momentum of change has to be steered to a totally different direction. Encouraging diversity and promoting the option to explore things you haven’t encountered before comes at the cost of surrendering yourself to differing views and unconventional forms of expressions. Our tendency to be drawn towards subjects that embody values similar to our own, and the black-box algorithms embedded in social media platforms that encourage these habits, are already making us increasingly less capable of opening up to new things. What if the video suggestions on YouTube were less based on what you watch frequently and more in line with what you haven’t watched over a certain period? What if friend suggestions on Facebook were not based on how many mutual friends you share? You probably won’t be using the services at all. But as hard as it is for us to accept the truth, creativity can only flourish when dissimilar subsets interact — just as diversity comes with crossover between unalike traits.
Before concerning ourselves with how many likes we’ve got, we have to ask ourselves to whom our posts are visible. It is certainly true that you would probably get fewer likes if the same pool of viewers was not comprised of your friends or people who share your preferred forms of expression. Creating a true space for creativity means creating an environment where users are unworried about such disparities.
I am unsure whether Instagram’s new change will bring a significant change. I am just certain that it isn’t the most urgent matter at hand.