If you haven’t already heard, Instagram has been rolling out the act of hiding likes on the platform, an action that the app has already taken in other countries but was met with pushback in the United States. This doesn’t mean that likes will be disappearing forever; they will only be visible to the user themselves, and the rest of the world won’t be able to see who liked what picture. I know I’ve made it clear that I’m not a fan of the platform, and I stand by that unwaveringly, but I think that this is a good step.
Having gone from middle school to my sophomore year of college with Instagram as an overbearing presence (at some points more intensely than others), I’ve realized that the power of the like is often overlooked. It’s so easy to like something when you’re mindlessly scrolling — a quick double tap on every picture you see. If you’re in the zone, it is a more conscientious effort to look at someone’s picture and decide not to like it. That singular action stands for so much: It represents a sense of approval from others. In adolescence, an age where people so desperately want to fit in with the crowd, that one action, or lack thereof, can mean everything. It’s the difference between feeling like someone might be interested in you, or not; if someone is your friend, or not. We use this singular action to read into social dynamics that have many different layers outside of the pink-and-purple icon.
It’s also important to note how people interact with social media differently based on who they are. As a woman, it’s difficult not to notice that a picture of just you, especially in a bathing suit, will get many more likes than a picture with friends, a pretty landscape or a delicious meal. It’s also not hard to notice that a lot of the influx comes from men. This trend perpetuates the patriarchal ideal that a woman is only worth what she can do and be for men — a sexual outlet or something to ogle. It diminishes the importance of the other facets of her life, the things that make up her sense of self. In a country where a woman who wins the popular vote in a presidential election gets overridden by a man who can casually brag about “grabbing her by the pussy,” it’s more important than ever that the young women who will lead our future feel like there are other things that contribute to their worth besides physical appearance.
Instagram is not going anywhere anytime soon; the population of people who use it will probably only increase as time goes on. This new development of the lack of visible likes will change the way people interact with the app for the better. It is a gentle reminder for people to do what they were supposed to in the first place: to share the stories of their lives, as they are.