Unlikable likes: A need to remove Instagram likes


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Hayden Donaldson

The abolition of likes is in many ways long overdue. Instagram’s like-based system of public scrutiny is an archaic remnant from a bygone time. Social media’s affinity for likes originated when the world was strikingly less concerned with mental health than it is today.

Of all the awkward and borderline trauma-inducing social situations in which I found myself as a teenager, by far the most nerve-racking seemed to be posting on Instagram. 

An app created primarily for allowing everyone I know to look at pictures of me should be perfect for someone with a proclivity for vanity such as myself. So why then was Instagram the source of so many of my adolescent anxieties? 

What ruined Instagram for me was the potential embarrassment I’d suffer if no one liked what I posted; it far outweighed any enjoyment I would get if people did like what I posted. My fragile teenage ego kept me from seeing the appeal of quantifying and displaying how many people had liked what I posted. Instagram’s use of likes completely ruined what otherwise would be entertaining.

My experiences as a teenager, however, is in no way unique for me. For over a decade, Instagram has reliably produced and exacerbated the insecurities and self-doubts of many of its users all over the world. The time-honored tradition of Instagram using the internet to make people feel bad must come to an end.

Over time the importance I had placed on what people thought of me was replaced with a disinterest in what they thought of me. Even though my insecurities have largely melted with age, I still rarely ever use Instagram. I don’t find much enjoyment from advertising my life or subjecting myself to an onslaught of homogeneous posts. Likes have rendered using Instagram an exercise in tedium.

Despite serving little to no real utility for the average Instagram user, likes have permeated every aspect of the user experience. Likes only exist to act as a highly visible and wildly inaccurate way for people to gauge social ranking. 

Likes have made it so that posting isn’t actually about sharing your life so much as it is about seeking approval from others. Rarely do posts provide any meaningful window into the people sharing them. Often, they are carefully cultivated and sanitized to propagate a public image. 

This encourages users to shy away from being themselves on Instagram and to instead optimize posts to get as many likes as possible.

Anxiety over whether a post will get enough likes can keep people from posting more freely and frequently than they otherwise would. Sharing yourself online should inspire confidence and be an extension of who you are. The incorporation of likes takes this great concept and morphs it into little more than a competition of status fueled by insecurity and jealousy.

Recently, Instagram has made a halfhearted attempt to quell requests from disaffected users to remove likes from the platform. This resulted in Instagram giving some users the option to hide likes on their posts. This fails to address the issues created by likes, as displaying them is still the default option when it shouldn’t be an option at all. The only way these issues can be fixed is if Instagram commits to ridding itself of likes completely for all users.