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For years, we’ve been hearing rumors that the big social media platforms have been looking for ways to remove the “like” button. Facebook, for example, has already added reaction buttons to posts, in recognition that the purely up/down nature of the “like” might not be enough. And social media platforms, slowly but surely, are coming to the realization that they should not be giant popularity contests. But are we really ready to get rid of the “like”?
Instagram experiments with hiding “likes”
And now comes news that Instagram is experimenting with a new user interface that will essentially hide the exact number of “likes” that a new photo receives. Followers will be able to see a limited number of Instagram handles who have liked the post, but will not be able to see the total number of likes. Instead, they will just see the cryptic phrase, “and others.” Of course, the person who created the post will be able to see the exact number of likes – but it will reduce much of the social anxiety that a lot of us feel whenever we post something to social media. As long as your post gets three likes (or whatever the minimum threshold is going to be), then it really doesn’t matter if the post got 33 likes or 333 likes or 3,333 likes.
As Instagram has explained, it’s all part of a process to create a “kinder, gentler Instagram.” So many stories have been written in the media about the social anxiety caused by people competing for likes that social media platforms are waking up to the idea that turning a platform into a vast popularity contest is bad for people’s mental health (especially for teens and other young social media users). And, in fact, the UK is already experimenting with a new rule that will require social media platforms to disable the “Like” button for any user under the age of 18. If it is not clear how old a user really is, then the default option would be to disable the “like.”
The end of the influencer?
There may be several unintended consequences of getting rid of the “like.” One of these might be the diminished popularity of brands using social media influencers to push their products. In order to become an influencer, you need to be able to show brands that you have tens of thousands of followers and that your posts get a lot of engagement. If the “like” goes away, how are they going to prove that they are worth paying as part of an influencer program?
After years of being told that they need to measure everything they do online, brands, too, might rebel at the end of the “like.” What’s the point of posting content online if you can’t show everyone how popular you are? If the “like” is taken away, will they really have to look for another way to measure engagement?
Rumors of the end of the like have been greatly exaggerated
As Mark Twain once famously noted, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” That might be true for the social media “like” as well – the rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. Through all the various social media innovations – the applause button, the reaction GIF, and the emoji – the humble “like” has persisted.