Hiding “likes” on Instagram won’t fix the mental health problems that come with social media

The new test that Instagram is launching this week is a trial run to determine if “likes” will be abandoned altogether in the future


By The Sustainable Angle // illustration by Grace McLeod

Despite the good intentions, Instagram’s new trials will not solve any of the mental health issues social media causes.

Grace McLeod, JAG editor-in-chief

As a teenager growing up in the 21st century, it is almost a given that I am active on social media. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, you name it. And anybody who has ever spent any time on social media knows that “likes” are a central element. However, Instagram recently announced that this week they will be running a trial in the U.S. to see how eliminating the “like count” from posts will affect social media users. During these trials, an unknown amount of randomly selected Instagram users will not be able to see the total number of “likes” on anyone else’s posts. However, they will still be able to see the total number of “likes” on their own posts. 

A common criticism of social media is that it is detrimental to the mental health of its users, and many have voiced support for Instagram’s move to change this. However, Instagram’s trial will not solve the root cause of the negative side effects of social media: the comparison of oneself to others.

According to Newport Academy, the theory of social comparison, first proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, described humanity’s uncontrollable urge to constantly self-evaluate. This theory explains how as humans, we decide our own self worth by comparing ourselves to the people we see around us. When social media was first popularized, the comparisons magnified. Now, instead of comparing ourselves to real people, we are comparing ourselves to the seemingly perfect, heavily photoshopped, images that everyone projects of themselves. This only serves to lower our self-confidence and trigger feelings of jealousy.

It is a well-known fact that social media has caused mental health issues in some of its users. The fact that Instagram is taking steps against this is conceptually a positive thing. However, the problem with social media is not the “likes,” it is the very idea of social media as a whole. Getting rid of “likes” will not fix any of the problems. According to the theory of social comparison, there is no way to get rid of our innate desire to compare. One way to minimize this is to delete social media. Obviously, Instagram would never advocate for that, so instead they are attempting to make things right by hiding the “like” counts of others. While at face value this may seem like a positive thing, Instagram’s trials only serve to wash the hands of the negative effects of social media without actually making a difference.

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