This month, Instagram are testing out a significant change to their app in certain countries, including New Zealand. You can no longer see the number of likes on other people’s posts, and they can’t see the number of likes on yours (unless you tap through to the likes page). Underneath a post you are simply shown whether anyone you follow has liked the photo, rather than the total number of how many people have validated that particular bikini shot on the beaches of the Amalfi Coast.
I am someone who typically has an aversion to change, and I tend to resist it for as long as humanly possible. I don’t like it when one of my beloved apps changes from one shade of blue to another, because I’m not comfortable with even the smallest part of my daily routine being altered. But this is a change that I can 100% get behind.
Over the course of years, Instagram has, by accident or design, harboured a toxic culture of constant comparison. When I first downloaded the app in 2011, it was just a fun way to show my friends what I had for lunch or what the sunset looked like that Tuesday. You’d take one photo, drown it in filters, throw fifteen hashtags into the caption, chuck it online, and be happy with 11 likes.
But, over time, the app has transformed into something entirely different. A curated Instagram profile is where people project the lives they wish they have, so that strangers think it’s the life they do have. We all do it, and we all fall for it! Even though we know it’s not realistic. Even if we’ve met that person in real life, and we can clearly see they downloaded another app to whiten their teeth and shave ten pounds off their waist. Even if we know that it’s humanly impossible to spend your entire life on one of those beaches with lots of colour coordinated umbrellas or with your hair slicked back under a waterfall. Even if we all know this, it still hurts us.
But maybe the most harmful aspect of social media, and Instagram in particular, is that everyone’s popularity is measured by numbers. Everyone can see when your selfie only gets 30 likes, even though all your friends’ photos seem to get upwards of 300.
The number of likes you get on a photo is a stupid, meaningless thing to care about, but that hasn’t stopped it from worming itself into our collective consciousness. At least five of my friends have had to delete the Instagram app from their phone because they had become so consumed with striving for validation that it was taking a toll on their mental health. And those are intelligent, self-sufficient, educated women in their twenties. How is this affecting kids?
We didn’t have Instagram when I was growing up, we had neopets and password journals. But kids these days grow up online, every outfit they’ve ever worn and every thought they’ve ever had is documented for their peers to support or sneer at. They’re growing up in a culture of judgment, where they and their friends are constantly assessing each other. Can’t be healthy, can it?
It’s toxic and it’s scary. This is the first generation to ever grow up in such bizarre circumstances, and we don’t yet know the long-term consequences on not only their mental health, but also their ability to form healthy relationships with others.
Which is why it’s so refreshing and exciting that Instagram has decided to make the number of likes on photos invisible (even if it’s only in a few countries to begin with). It’s refreshing that a huge corporation with as much money and power as Instagram (owned by Facebook) has paused to consider its impact on the mental health of its users.
In a statement, Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy said: "We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love." Maybe the sentiment is genuine, maybe it’s just for good press, but I don’t care. I don’t care if Facebook/Instagram don’t actually care about their impact on society or the mental health of twelve year olds and is just doing this for publicity. Because it’s worth it to know that my little sisters won’t have that culture of comparison pushed on them to make them feel constantly inferior anymore.
So lets bring back the spirit of 2011 Instagram - throw caution to the wind and post a photo of your TV dinner or your cat doing something incredibly mundane. Because we have bigger and better things to worry about than how many likes our photos receive.Support Villainesse