by Martine Oglethorpe

Removing Instagram ‘likes’


Recently, Australian users of the popular social media platform Instagram, received a message at the top of their feed titled ‘Testing a change to how you see likes’. This was followed by the statement ‘We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your post gets. During this test, only you will be able to see how many likes your post gets.’ 

As a powerful player in the world of social media, the Facebook owned platform cited a responsibility and desire to promote more authentic engagement and a changing emphasis toward the social and emotional wellbeing of its younger users. 

So now, we can only see the likes our own posts get, but not the number of likes on other people’s posts. The hope with this move is that we see a shift in focus from likes as a form of social currency. To remove the popularity contest of social media and promote the idea that we, and in particular our young people, are worth more than those little love heart metrics. 

Why do we need these changes? 

Likes as a measure of popularity

Getting lots of likes on a photo can give us a quick hit of the feel good transmitter, dopamine and give us a pat on the back from both peers and people unknown. It can be an affirmation that we are doing something right and a public endorsement of our popularity. But it can also have the opposite effect for those who don’t receive many likes. It can become an affirmation that they are not good enough, not popular enough and not worthy of the validation from peers and people unknown. Obviously the consequences for these young people, particularly those already suffering from a precarious sense of self confidence and self-worth, can further amplify feelings of rejection, hurt and humiliation. 

Likes for the perfect pose

Instagram is also a very visual platform and as such many of the likes on pictures are based on aesthetic value. We therefore tend to see some young people striving for the perfect selfie rather than creating other worthwhile content. Whilst there is nothing wrong with posting a picture of oneself online, we do want to ensure the focus is not on the constant uptake of filters, perfect angles, pouts and photoshopping, all in the name of getting that ‘like worthy’ photo that becomes the yardstick for all those who follow.

Likes and comparison

Removing the likes can therefore become one less way of measuring and ranking one another and comparing oneself to everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives.  Because even if we are only getting the idealised and highlighted versions, this comparison is still something many people struggle with, and can thus lead to feelings of inadequacy if they feel their life is not measuring up.

Following the crowd

Whilst likes can indeed be seen as a fast and quantifiable measure of popularity by peers, it is also thought that our neural responses to popularity, mean we are more likely to like something that is already seen as popular. The reward circuits of our brains therefore instinctively rate something as better if it has more likes, regardless of the content. 

Thereby we see young people possibly ‘following the crowd’, rather than creating, sharing, endorsing and critically evaluating for themselves, the photos and content that they see as worthwhile.

Likes for risk-taking behaviours

There is also an element of risk-taking behaviours that are exacerbated online as influencers and copycat users alike, strive for that daring and dangerous post. Photos from rooftops and high ledges, posing on rock formations in front of fierce waves and doing all sorts of stunts, become gambles many are willing to take for the perfect Instagram post and subsequent likes. Whilst many relish the double dose of dopamine, both the stunt itself and the subsequent ‘likes’ and adulation that follows, not all are lucky enough to see those likes, as it has been reported hundreds have died in search of the perfect post. But more worrying for young people today is the rise of the sites that encourage everyday users to take part in challenges and dares that add a sense of reckless adventure, all in the name of likes.

Is removing likes the answer?

Whilst removing likes may not be the complete answer, it can certainly be seen as one valuable part of the solution. We do need more safety features embedded at the design stage of future apps and hopefully these changes pave the way for practices which will become the norm. Other recent changes to Instagram have included using AI technology that flags potentially threatening or bullying comments and checks with the user again whether they are really sure they want to post that particular comment. They also have given users the ability to turn off nasty comments, or even choose certain words they never want to see in their comments section. These changes have been in response to cyberbullying behaviours which have been an unfortunate byproduct of all social medias.  

Of course, changes to the technology are not the magic wand to solve all of the problems of growing up in a digital world. Many of these problems are not just about technology but about behaviours in general. So one platform alone cannot be expected to change the whole culture of a generation. There are also some who say the reasons behind the changes have more to do with commercialism than altruism and they have ulterior motives to the changes to encourage more comments and engagement and thus more commercial viability. I believe it is safe to say however, that coupled with other recent changes to the platform, the moves are certainly heading in the right direction for the wellbeing of users, whatever the motivations. 

We do want our young people to use these platforms in ways that support their friendships, challenge their thinking and give them a platform for self-expression and creativity.  But we want to ensure they can do this with a focus on authenticity and positive and helpful interactions, rather than in negative, comparative, risky and ‘like driven’ ways. 

Let’s continue to make moves to ensure we are having the right conversations with our kids about their self-worth and identity, where they turn to for validation, and who they allow to make judgements about themselves. And in the words of Brené Brown, inspired by the not so prolific user of social media, Theodore Roosevelt, ‘Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.’ 

Let’s ensure we all take heed of this advice, wherever we find ourselves online.


Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Martine Oglethorpe is a mother to 5 boys with a background in secondary education and a Masters in Counselling. As an Online Safety and Digital Wellbeing Speaker, Martine is accredited by the Office of the eSafety Commission. She is a founder of and is passionate in helping families to safely navigate the modern world of parenting. This article is about