Like most people, I check Instagram before going to sleep and do the same as soon as I wake up. Posting on the platform wouldn’t be that big of a deal for us if likes weren’t such a big part of the process. Likes control us as soon as we press the ‘post’ button—only after having gone through the long procedure of picking a good picture, filtering it, etc. What would it be like if this social media standard of measurement was taken out of the equation?
Last week, former Facebook executive and Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri announced that the company would be running tests in Canada on a new version of the app where users could still like posts but only the owner of the post would be able to see how many likes the picture got. It looks like the company wants people to go back to its roots—focusing on the content that we share instead of the amount of likes we receive. As nice as this sounds, coming from a social media company, it also seems too good to be true.
With apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, amongst others, likes do more than feed into our constant attention seeking behaviour and our comparison obsession. Likes help the algorithms that basically control those platforms decide which content to show first, or which ads a user is most likely to click on. This kind of data is not something easy to let go of. Even though likes are not planned to be completely removed, just hidden from other users, this new way of consuming social media content is bound to affect the way we show our appreciation for certain posts.
Social media adapts a herd mentality: when a picture that already has a lot of likes shows up on your timeline, you’re more inclined to double tap it than one that doesn’t have a lot or has none. Not only does it reinforce the problem of how we look for validation online, but it also affects our mental health. Even Kanye West said it last year in one of his rants on Twitter—social networks are damaging people’s mental health and we should be protected from knowing how many likes and followers we have.
For some of the younger users of Instagram, pressure to post often as well as like their friends’ photos quickly is part of growing up with the technology. Millennials’ social status is based on how many likes, comments, and followers they have. Changing this could be a first step towards ‘digital detox’, although comments could become the new likes.
This test could raise concern amongst celebrities and influencers, who have monetised on their popularity through sponsored posts, other types of ads and, obviously, likes. Hiding likes would make it harder for them to ‘go viral’ and see how much engagement a post receives. Instagram would only benefit now from making it harder for businesses and influencers to thrive on its platform, because people would praise them for trying to make it a safer environment.
What about in the long run? If users can’t imagine how influential you are because your likes count is secret, then advertisers and influencers will probably just find or create another platform where more money can be made through the perpetuation of this herd mentality.
Our relationship with social media, and as a result likes, has slowly turned into something bordering on unhealthy. Even though this possible new version might not be as dramatic as it sounds, it could still change a few things—for the app and for our mental health. We could go back to posting pictures just to share them with our friends, families (and fans for celebrities and influencers) just for fun. Today, social media is more about winning at life—let’s make it enjoyable again.
The selfie-generation has become something we accept as much as we enjoy to joke about. Selfie-oriented beauty tutorials are the subject of love, hate and mockery. Shameless selfie is a hashtag. ‘Feeling myself’ a brush off reference to Beyonce rather than an acknowledgement of our self-obsession and desire for societal acceptance. Beauty tutorials on YouTube and Instagram have become a source of plastic surgery and botox inspiration, influence and—more importantly, education.
According to a 2017 survey by The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), 55 percent of plastic surgeons reported that their patients desired to look better in selfies. The trend was first identified by the surgeon society three years ago and has been on an average 13 percent increase per year since. BUT With online beauty influencers leading this change, what exactly is their influence providing those seeking advice, reliable information and support ahead of such robust, expensive and life-altering decisions?
AAFPRS President, William H. Truswell, said that “More and more of our patients are using social media as a forum to gain a sense of solidarity when undergoing a major, potentially life-changing procedure. Consumers are only a swipe away from finding love and a new look, and this movement is only going to get stronger.” The main issue is that surgery influencers and advocates often represent only a fragment of the whole process; the final result, the beginning of a happier life; the start of self-confidence never experienced before. Just a few weeks ago the Evening Standard reported that “Superdrug launched its own Botox and fillers service” as a result of what “experts have linked to the popularity of Love Island.” Supposedly watching 20-year-olds with lip fillers frolicking around a villa in Spain for 8 weeks is enough to convince an entire generation of beauty-thirsty millennials that aesthetic surgery is the answer. And don’t get me wrong, it could be for some. But what I’m more concerned about is the information available on what these procedures really mean.
The kind of information currently circulating through botox advocates and Instagram surgeons like Dr Six and his peers happens to be much more hollow and at times inaccurate than we’re led to believe. Just two weeks ago, a study was published by Rutgers University—the first of its kind—titled ‘Assessment of YouTube as an Informative Resource on Facial Plastic Surgery Procedures’. The study saw researchers analysing thousands of “facial plastic surgery procedures, patient experiences, and medical commentary” on YouTube and Instagram to evaluate the “video quality and creator qualification”. By analysing the top 240 videos that came up to an array of keywords such as ‘lip fillers’, ‘facial fillers’ and ‘eyelid surgery’, researchers concluded that these videos accumulate a combined 158 million views. All the videos were given a credibility and reliability score from between 1 (very low) to 5 (high) and the results, worryingly yet somewhat unsurprisingly, ranged between 2.75 at the top range and 1.55 for the low ranking videos.
It’s hard to believe that watching DIY plastic surgery advice, procedure and before-and-after videos will have such visible influence on an entire generation. But when there’s no limitation and, crucially, no regulation in the era of influencers we are living through—essentially “The Age of Influence” as the cover of Business of Fashion’s May issue read under Kim Kardashian’s perfectly symmetrical face—the question is, what are the limits to influence?