Instagram and Facebook are finally doing it. Both platforms now allow users to disable like counts. This change allows for two main features: 

  1. You can hide the like and view counts on others’ posts
  2. You can hide your own like and view counts from the eyes of other users

After almost two years of testing hidden like counts, Facebook and Instagram have made this an optional feature that can be toggled in settings. There is even flexibility in that users can hide likes on a per-post basis. This decision comes after many mixed opinions on the various tests the sites have conducted. Some find the feature beneficial, and some find it annoying, according to an Instagram spokesperson in this The Verge article.

If you’re anything like me, you had a gut reaction of hesitation to this news. Instantly, you’re wondering what this means for you and how you appear online. This isn’t uncommon. We’ve all shared that fire pic of us to get a bit of love on the gram. 

There are many implications for our personal lives which I’ll cover soon, but first, let’s talk PR. In the field of public relations, likes and views are a convenient tool to see what content performs well and what doesn’t. Thankfully, hiding like counts is optional, and in the organizational realm, it may be best to keep likes visible for now to best understand the virtual atmosphere. However, we may see a decrease in the usage of likes if people decide to stop liking posts because like counts don’t hold the same weight. Only time will tell. For now, let’s talk about how this will impact mental health, a topic with which most of Gen Z is all too familiar.

Why?

Maybe the reasons behind this move are obvious, but they’re worth noting. Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri was quoted, “The idea is to depressurize Instagram. We’re trying to reduce anxiety, we’re trying to reduce social comparisons.” Various studies, such as these 2020 findings published in Child Development, support this mission. With hidden likes, the hope is that unnecessary detrimental social comparisons decrease and that young people stop relying on something as frivolous as a like count to determine their worth and support their mental health.

The Real Problem

So now that the situation is out there, let’s talk about the real issue at hand. (Spoiler alert: it’s not just about digital ‘likes’). 

We’re humans. We play the comparison game, and we play it hard. This isn’t a new problem, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. While I admire the drive of Facebook and Instagram – and I do think they’re taking steps in the right direction – let’s not be fooled into thinking big tech is the answer to the mental health epidemic of our generation. In fact, I worry that this is just putting a bandaid on a broken bone.

The issue is deeper than a ‘like’ button. The above study even addresses that correlation does not equal causation. Our system of liking posts is most likely both a product and a cause of a wounded society that derives its worth from surface-level, fleeting affirmations. Sound like you? It sure sounds like me.

What are we supposed to do about it?

While we’re focused on looking good on the Instagram feeds, we’re missing the chance to be genuine sources of encouragement and joy. There’s a reason we’re all still on social media, and maybe I’m optimistic, but I don’t think those reasons are only selfish. 

Social media helps us connect with people from all perspectives, locations, and walks of life. So why don’t we start doing just that – connecting?

I don’t have all the answers, but here are some suggestions to navigating a ‘like’-less space in a way that is healthy and life-giving:

  1. Comment anywhere and everywhere. – Hype up your friends! Hype up your followers! Hype up that girl you don’t know at all but added because her name was Lauren and you assumed you probably knew her! 
  2. Less reactions, more words. – When you comment, don’t just put an emoji or an empty compliment. Fill a bucket with some constructive words. Additionally, message people. Start real conversations in those DMs. Get to know others, and then follow up with them later.
  3. Self-awareness – Analyze your own posting habits before you add to the mess. Why are you choosing to post that? Is it adding anything to the world? Will it build up others and foster relationships, or will it be a catalyst of unhealthy comparison?

And, if you’re in a spot where social media has become a toxic avenue where you can neither encourage nor be encouraged, it could be that you need to take a break from it all. I promise you won’t miss it while you’re gone. 

Ultimately, whether you like Instagram’s and Facebook’s new addition, it’s important that as up-and-coming professionals, we stay on top of the changes and learn a thing or two about PR in the process.

About the Author:

Brady is a junior at Grand Valley State University and Podcast Director for GVSU’s PRSSA chapter. He is a huge people person, passionate about anything that gets him interacting with, learning about, and entertaining others. He studies Advertising and Public Relations and Public and Nonprofit Administration with a French minor. One day, he hopes to host his own talk show. Until then, he is pursuing a career in public relations, potentially in local government communications.
Twitter: @brady_mills_