Instagram is a photo and video sharing social network. Many users capitalize on the platform’s image-focused interface as a way to showcase their lives and potentially influence others. This can also become an obsession for users who focus on their engagement metrics, sometimes to the detriment of their mental health. The number of “likes” a post receives starts to rule their day.
But the company may be making moves to change this in the near future. Instagram is testing options where they will hide Like counts. Current testing is going on in Canada.
When you create a post, you would still be able to open your Likes window and see who gave you a heart, but others wouldn’t see it. News of the tests comes from the head of the app, Adam Mosseri. They’re also testing out hiding view counts from videos.
So why the possible change? The goal is to put the focus back on content, rather than engagement.
Reducing the Pressure of Social Media
Criticism of social media is abundant, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as Instagram. Social media platforms use algorithms that take into account how many likes or views a post gets, and that’s how they decide whether or not to show the content prominently to other users. By incentivizing the most likes or views, one side effect is that users are increasingly experiencing diminished self-worth and self-esteem.
Mosseri said the idea of the proposed changes is to reduce social media pressure and the negative effects of social media. In an interview with BuzzFeed, he went as far as saying there is the potential to remove like counts and video views fully, but Instagram is in the early stages of considering such a move. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, has spoken out about the removal of metrics as well. The company says it’s looking at different ways to measure how people interact with content.
These changes come alongside an increase in conversations about the negative impact of social media and the links between social media and self-esteem. An estimated three billion people use social media, and we spend an average of two hours a day on the platforms. While it’s relatively new, there is mounting evidence suggesting social media may be detrimental to our mental health in several ways.
For example, a Pew Research Center study in 2015 showed Twitter could be a significant contributor to stress because it increases your own awareness of other people’s stress. A 2014 study done by researchers in Austria showed lower moods when people used Facebook for 20 minutes, as compared to browsing the internet.
A study in Computers in Human Behavior showed people using seven or more social media sites or platforms were more than three times as likely as people using zero to two platforms to experience general anxiety symptoms. A study from 2016 showed a three-times higher risk of depression and anxiety among people using higher numbers of social media platforms. Reasons cited? A distorted view of what other people’s lives are like, cyber-bullying, and feeling like time spent on social media is a waste.
Another study cited by Forbes recently showed the more people used Facebook in a day, the less happy they felt in the moment and the less satisfaction they felt with their life in general.
Comparing our lives to others can cause feelings similar to symptoms of depression, and can breed jealousy. In January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, seemed to acknowledge some of these concerns by saying that the company wants to put more emphasis on making social media more meaningful.
Of the platforms, studies show that Instagram may be the most damaging social media option in terms of mental health for young people.
There’s also growing concern about the potential for social media addiction. A 2017 study noted that social platforms give users a means of escaping real-life conflicts and negative emotions and when social media is used excessively for that purpose, an addiction can develop.
Removing the Focus from Engagement Metrics
The specific changes Instagram is testing right now include hiding the total number of likes on content, including photos and videos. They’re also going to remove these from profiles, permalink pages and main feeds in their tests. But how would this help improve users’ mental health?
Psychology professionals say that getting likes is somewhat like a gambler who’s at a slot machine. The like count becomes an obsession because it’s immediate feedback and reinforcement for the person who posted the image or video. But if or when someone feels they don’t get enough likes, it can destroy their day and how they feel about themselves or lead to the person deleting the photo or video.
Potential Impact for Users and Brands
For the current Instagram tests, removing visible likes has the potential to reduce or remove some of the social media pressure users feel. However, users would still be able to see their own like counts privately. This will likely continue to feed the cycle of reward and reinforcement that getting likes creates.
This test also doesn’t address other issues related to social media pressure like comparing your life to someone else’s or feeling left out.
The impact could also be damaging to brands and influencers. Influencers are often paid based on their engagement for the posts where they advertise products or services. A big part of how that engagement is measured is in likes.
Undoubtedly, the conversation surrounding social media and its impact on mental health will continue. More research needs to be done to understand the full scope of the effects social media has on mental health.
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Walton, Alice G. “6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health.” Forbes, June 30, 2017. Accessed June 19, 2019.
Fox, Kara. “Instagram worst social media app for young people’s mental health.” CNN, May 19, 2017. Accessed June 27, 2019.
Primack, Brian; et al. “Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults“. Computers in Human Behavior, April 2017. Accessed June 27, 2019.
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