Instagram Changing its Fundamental Feature: Removing the Like Button


Ali Bauer, Currents Section Editor

An overwhelming 76% of teens from ages thirteen to seventeen use Instagram. On this popular social media platform, individuals can upload pictures and videos, share experiences, and view other people’s content.

The integration of Instagram in the lives of young adults is incredibly influential. For one, Instagram can be a pivotal instrument for communication. Through direct messaging, Instagram users can send a message to anyone else who has the app; whether this means asking a college a question or having a lighthearted conversation with a friend. Direct messaging can open up many opportunities for new connections that could not occur easily anywhere else. Just the other day, for instance, I wanted to communicate with another student with whom I was working in a group project, but I didn’t have their phone number. Within seconds, I was able to carry out a conversation with them about our project over instagram.

At the same time, Instagram also has its downsides. In the last couple of years, more teens than ever before have been reported depressed and unconfident because they are weighed down with “perfect” images that they see on the platform. Many people wonder why they can’t look a certain way and strive to appear like the flawless figures that appear in their feed. In reality, the photo that caused so much awe may have been photoshopped and airbrushed, which removes all imperfections.

Another stressor posed by Instagram is the competition for likes. A recent report from the UK’s Royal Society of Public Health reports that anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep quality and negative body image are all associated with the rise of social media prevalence. In a way, the value of the post is unspokenly measured by the number of likes that it gets, regardless of the content of the post. Ironically, the most liked picture on instagram is a photograph of an egg; the image is captioned with three sentences encouraging viewers to like the photo in order to help reach the goal of breaking the world record for most likes. Ultimately, Instagram has morphed from a platform for sharing pictures into a competition of which pictures can get the most likes. It has been scientifically proven that the act of receiving a like sends dopamine to the brain; so, receiving likes does statistically make us happy. Likewise, when teens saw their photos with a high number of likes, researchers detected activity across wide regions of the brain, including the reward circuitry. But what does it do to those who do not receive many likes? The social pressure to get the most likes possible can lead to social superiority. Those who frequently receive lower amounts of likes often feel less compelled to post pictures because they feel like no one values what they share. Many users will even delete photos that do not get “enough” likes. When teens were asked to like photos, researchers also concluded they were influenced by the number of likes a photo already had. Fortunately for many, this might not be an issue for much longer.

Recently, Instagram has recognized the backlash that it has received for concerns regarding the like bottom. In efforts to avoid mental strife, Instagram is testing a new update in which the number of likes will not be listed on anyone’s screen but the person who posted the picture. The app will still show a couple profile images next to a few names of users who liked the photo, as it does now, but it will no longer show the exact count of people who liked the post. “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get,” Instagram says. Instagram has chosen to start testing this update in Canada; they will have to see an increase in positive interactions and user engagement to expand. Depending on the results of the experiment, this deletion of the like feature could potentially carry over into other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

For those who reap the benefits of the current likes system, the removal of the like button is threatening. For example, a few instagram models have already openly announced that they will consider deleting the app if the like feature is removed. Essentially, these models are stating that their purpose for using the apps is solely to obtain high quantities of likes. If this doesn’t capture the social media-obsessed society today, I don’t know what does. 

At the end of the day, not everyone can be happy. Predictions indicate that the removal of the like button will occur, and “likes” as we know them will soon disappear. In this transition, new concerns emerge: Does applause still feel good when no one can hear it? Could the number of comments turn into the next competition for an abundance of likes? Will those against this change actually go through in deleting the app? Will the actual content posted be regarded more highly now that the like count is not visible to dictate a pictures success? Soon enough, we will find out.