Instagram should remove likes

“If you post now, no one will like it.”

“So when do I post it?”

“At, like, 9 pm. That’s when everyone finishes their homework and is on Instagram.”

This dialogue is all too familiar to me, and maybe for you too. Popularity is hardly a new concept for teenagers, but Generation Z-ers, like me, have seen it fester into an entirely new platform– social media.

When Mark Zuckerberg debuted the “like-button” for Facebook in 2014, he said in a public Q&A that “we need to figure out the right way to do it so it ends up being a force for good, not a force for bad and demeaning the posts that people are putting out there.” But he didn’t really figure it out, and now us kids and young adults are fighting to battle through the effects of the button’s force for bad.

Swipe-and-doubletap culture has enabled a transition from an indication that the post is appreciated to an indication that the post is acknowledged. And teenagers, transitioning into the age of being taken seriously, have a very strong drive to be acknowledged. Not only do we seek to be acknowledged, we want to be just as or even more recognized than our peers.

Many Instagram users look at the little black number on the bottom of their friend’s pictures and then look at their own. A lot of us are putting out pictures which have been highly scrutinized to reflect the best aspects of ourselves, and to not see our efforts indicated in those numbers makes us jump to conclusions.

Someone who doesn’t get a lot of likes on one of their Instagram posts can equate the lack of acknowledgment with them not looking good, or the picture being “weird”, the caption unwitty.

Someone who consistently doesn’t receive as many likes as one of their friends can assume it means people don’t like them as much or they aren’t as attractive. These feelings are embarrassing and hard to admit, but they aren’t trivial, and they have real-life effects on our mental health.

But more likely than not, those assumptions aren’t true. Ultimately, while likes can feel like validation, it is simply based on how bright the photo is, how much it stands out, and yes, maybe even what time it is. The whole system has little to do with the quality of the Instagram user in question, but it takes a lot of self- assurance to truly internalize that.

Much more common is the comparison, the insecurity, the waiting-until-9pm, feelings twisting inside the self-conscious Instagram user. I think most of the kids reading this who have an Instagram can relate to the apprehension of waiting for the number to grow, looking at other people’s numbers and pretending it doesn’t matter.

If that sounds ridiculous, it is. But insecurity is a hard thing to remove, and likes, as a number, is not. There was a test-run of a version of Instagram for some Australian users, where it would say “liked by @user and others”, and one would have to click on the hyper-liked “others” to see who liked the post. There was no number that automatically showed up, so if you wanted to count your likes you would have to go through the list and count each individual person who liked it. Which is obviously a huge waste of time for anyone.

This version of Instagram is best for the platform and for the users of it, especially the younger ones. It maintains all the benefits of likes: users can know who saw their posts, and they can show appreciation (or acknowledgment) of others posts, but there’s no number for the world, including you, to see.