Should Instagram Ditch Likes?

Seeing who hearts your posts—or doesn’t—can make you seriously anxious. Would your life be better without likes?

YES

I made my first Instagram account in the sixth grade and, even then, it was all about earning that sacred double tap. I incessantly refreshed the page after I posted a new picture and deleted pictures if I thought they didn’t get enough likes. Six years later, I still worry about whether my pictures are “Insta-worthy.”

I enjoy posting photos on Instagram, but being so preoccupied with getting likes can’t be good for my mental health. I’d find posting a lot less stressful if I could focus on what I actually want to share, not how many people approve of my photos.

I’m not the only one worried about what Instagram is doing to my health. A recent study of American teens conducted by the Child Mind Institute linked the use of social media apps to depression, anxiety, loneliness, poor sleep quality, and negative body image. It makes sense to me that constantly seeing a number under your Instagram photos would make it easy to equate that number with your self-worth.

My friends and I spend a huge amount of time deliberating over our posts. When I scroll through Instagram, I can’t help but check the number of likes my friends and classmates get on their pictures—and question why I don’t measure up.

In fact, the competition to get likes on Instagram is so intense that some users pay for fake likes on their posts. Buying likes creates a false impression of how popular a post really is, and it sets unrealistic expectations for users seeing those huge numbers. Getting rid of likes would allow for more authenticity. People might post photos that are meaningful to them, instead of only posting photos they think will get the widest approval. Think about it: Would you post differently if likes were not a factor?

Clearly, social media is here to stay, and there are positives to having an Instagram account—like connecting with friends and sharing experiences. But obsessing over the number of likes you get is not a benefit. At a time when more than 100 million people per month use Instagram, something needs to change so users don’t feel anxious every time they post. Eliminating likes may be just the thing.

NO

About five years ago, my family moved from Connecticut to Florida. It was tough leaving my friends and extended family members behind. But then something interesting happened. Whenever I posted a picture on Instagram and a friend or relative from Connecticut gave me a like, it felt as if that person was waving hello.

Often that like motivated me to reach out in a more meaningful way. Posting on Instagram helped me stay connected to my old community during a difficult time. Without Instagram’s like feature, people like me might feel less encouraged to maintain friendships.

I’m not saying Instagram is perfect. Users can be cyberbullied via a degrading post or comment. I think all users would agree that the potential for cyberbullying is a legitimate problem that Instagram should address.

On the flip side, Instagram’s like feature can promote positivity. When someone likes your photo, it makes you feel supported and confident. And it takes you less than a second to give someone else positive feedback about their post, which might make them even more comfortable sharing. The company reports that the like button is used 3.5 million times every day, so a lot of users must be getting something out of the feature.

It’s also important to remember that some people use Instagram for creative pursuits—not just posting selfies. The platform is great for showcasing artistic skills like photography or singing. Having just a few people like your post can motivate you to keep making your art. Plus, the “explore” page uses the number of likes a post gets (among other factors) to determine which posts to promote. Getting rid of likes could take away the chance for artists to gauge what their audience enjoys and build their following.

There’s no single way to make Instagram perfect. For me, the stress of receiving a certain number of likes isn’t nearly as bad as receiving a mean comment on something I’ve posted—or seeing a post that degrades someone else. So maybe we should start by fixing an aspect of the app that’s truly detrimental, rather than getting rid of a feature many users actually “like.”

Additional vocabulary word:

dopamine

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