On Nov. 14, Instagram began its month-long trial about removing likes from public viewership on a test group of Instagram users in the US. This recent announcement has resulted in extremely mixed reactions; from proponents who happily welcome the prospective change to opponents who are less than enthused about another update that no one asked for, quite a lot of buzz has been generated regarding Instagram’s latest move. While this may be a step in the right direction to make Instagram a safe space, there are more effective and efficient methods than privatizing likes.
The globalization of this experiment is due to its supposed positive feedback from its initial testing with Canada in April, which then expanded to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand in July. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri expressed that the purpose of the test is to help reduce anxiety and social comparison.
“The idea is to try to depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition, and give people more space to focus on connecting with the people they love and things that inspire them,” said Mosseri.
#StatusOfMind, a 2017 report from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM), found that Instagram is one of the most detrimental social media platforms to the mental health and wellbeing of young adults. Survey participants reported feeling increased levels of anxiety, depression and bullying when they used the app.
The initial selling point for social media was that it helped bridge connections and share experiences between friends and family, old and new, across the world. Since then, platforms—namely Instagram—have become a cesspool of individuals who thrive off popularity and lust after numbers.
Such effects were completely unintentional, but it’s important that Instagram addressed these issues all the same.
This isn’t the first time that Instagram has attempted to combat the detrimental mental effects on its users. In February, the company announced that it would prevent anyone from posting graphic images of self-harm. An update followed in October when Instagram furthered its policies to discourage other displays of self-harm and suicide content by prohibiting fictional depictions (ie. drawings, memes, films or comics) and other imagery that has associations with these topics.
Yet despite Instagram’s good intentions, privatizing likes won’t do much to attack the issue at its source.
“We can’t forget that the content people post can have just as much, if not more, of a powerful effect,” said Sherry Pagoto, director of the University of Connecticut Center for Health and Social Media.
The rise in mental health issues from social media use stems from more than just the number of likes one receives. Other factors such as photoshopping images or promoting unhealthy products and behaviors also contribute to the issue at hand.
Earlier this year, actress and activist Jameela Jamil publicly criticized Khloe Kardashian for endorsing a meal replacement shake on Instagram. Jamil called Kardashian irresponsible for falsely advertising the product, feeding into unrealistic expectations about body image, and not being more conscious of her young, impressionable audience.
Instagram has also become a collective space for influencers and businesses to gain revenue. For many, their incomes solely rely on the success of their posts.
Influencers are users who have large followings and are paid to work with other companies or brands to advertise products, the most extreme example being Kylie Jenner, who has even received one million dollars for a sponsored post. The influencer market is expected to be a six billion dollar industry by next year.
A survey done by #paid, a platform that helps brands find creators to advertise their products, revealed that over 50 percent of surveyed influencers were negatively affected with a slowed growth of their follower counts.
Artist Peter DeLuce said that the majority of his business is due to his success on Instagram. When larger accounts saw how popular his art was, they shared his posts on their own pages.
“Instagram allowed me to reach a whole new section of people who don’t normally get to see art,” said DeLuce to the Guardian. “Likes are a good metric to prove your art is high quality—that there is a validation of your ideas and content.”
It’s commendable that Instagram is taking steps to tackle the prevalence of mental health issues that have risen in relation to social media, but its attempt to improve its users’ experiences fails at addressing the root of the problem—rather than resolve the original issue, it’s only created new ones to take its place.