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Will Instagram’s Removal of Public “Like” Counts Solve Our Problems?

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There’s been some buzz lately about Instagram testing a new feature that doesn’t show the public your “like counts.”

When the news came out I was, coincidentally, in the middle of reading a new book called Under the Influence by photographer Trey Ratcliff of Stuck In Customs. The book spends a lot of time exposing the fake Instagram influencers, those accounts I’m sure we’re all familiar with. You know, the ones with a hundred thousand followers yet have oddly suspicious engagement behavior, because it’s all done by robots that said “influencer” has hired to like & comment on their photos. They then use that proof of engagement to solicit gucci travel deals, real Guccis, and cash.

Anyways, another significant part of the book goes into how Instagram has contributed to anxiety, depression, and so on. You’re putting yourself out to the world and your account is a scoreboard for all to see; if your scores are low you feel like shit. I’ve written about these problems as they relate to photographers before, and I was hooked on this book. One of the things that he proposes social media in general does is remove public “like” counts.

And Instagram is finally testing this. Where you usually see “Liked by [yourfriend] and 86 others” it will rather say “Liked by [yourfriend] and others”. Only the photographer will be able to see the like count. It won’t be on display for the world. You, in theory, thus won’t be comparing yourself to others.

What do you think of removing like counts?

I already know that there will be mixed reaction.

The narcissists will be upset because the world won’t be able to see how “popular” their duckface selfies are. The influencers will be upset because they’ll have to come up with different tactics to crawl over one another (buy more comments?).

But what about the rest of us? Will this make a difference?

I’m totally guilty of falling into the trap of, “if it doesn’t get enough likes within 24 hours, it’s going into the archive.” I don’t know why. I shouldn’t care. Maybe because I’m trying to have a good feed and I’m using the audience to curate it for me; if the audience doesn’t approve then it’s not worthy of taking up space in my public feed. Lame, right?

With Instagram’s recent changes, everyone has seen a drop in engagement, and sometimes it just seems like a roll of the dice whether or not Instagram will show a photo to anyone. A photo could have great engagement in the first ten minutes and then suddenly fall off the face of the earth.

So I really don’t think that this metric should be used to gauge whether or not a photo is worthy of your feed; I never have, but yet it still happens. Part of the game. You could post a technically-perfect photo with great colors, a great composition, and a great story, but Instagram might not ever show that photo to anyone based on a number of variables. Does that mean it’s not worthy of your feed?

But will it really remove competition?

With that said, does it matter if the like count is public or not? So many photographers unashamedly do what I’m ashamed of (judging photos by like counts). They’re still going to see the score even if the public doesn’t, so will their behavior change at all? Will mine?

I was excited to hear that Instagram was testing this out. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it probably won’t fix the worst problems.

“Influencers” buying likes to get paid gigs is fraud, and this will address some of that.

But the more destructive behaviors – checking the phone every few seconds after posting a photo to assess acceptance from the world and then getting down if it doesn’t get the engagement you want it to – will that change at all even if the score isn’t public? I really don’t think so. And I feel this is the most nefarious side effect of social media.

Social media is supposed to be fun. Be yourself. Post what you want. Don’t give a fuck how many likes you get. It’s supposed to be a channel for us to be ourselves, not play by unwritten rules that some random group of photographers came up with and that seems to change every week.

This change is supposed to level the playing field by removing public comparisons. But will it solve the underlying problem of so many people using social media to gauge their worth?

I guess we’ll soon see.

Just some random musings while sipping my coffee on the train. Thoughts?