• Instagram is testing a new feature on Australian users. (Getty Images)
Will getting rid of Instagram likes finally get rid of the pressure of living up to the hype?
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

18 Jul 2019 - 1:19 PM  UPDATED 18 Jul 2019 - 10:07 PM

Australian Instagram users are no longer able to view the number of 'likes' on another person's posts - and will be forced to click a prompt to see the likes on their own posts under a new change rolled out by the social media giant.

While the change will likely impact the way social media 'influencers' communicate with brand partners, the bold move is being lauded as a positive step by many users, due in part to the app's potentially negative impact on young people.

According to research by the UK's Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram is the most damaging social media platform for mental health in users aged 14-24. As reported by TIME, the 2017 #StatusOfMind study found that the popular photo-sharing app was commonly associated with growing levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and a "fear of missing out.”

“Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,” the report stated. “These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude.”

Some of the negative repercussions Instagram has on its users' mental health can be traced back to the weight it places on popularity. A far-cry from the app's simple photo-sharing origins, the Facebook-owned platform now offers special audience-engagement features to users with more than 10,000 followers, as well as verified 'blue ticks' to certain well-known profiles.

Until today, it also displayed the number of people who have liked each and every one of a user's photos; a badge of honour or potential marking of shame, depending on who you ask. 

Speaking from personal experience, the emphasis placed on how many likes each photo receives plays heavily into the complex and ongoing battle for validation in the digital media age.

 The emphasis placed on how many likes each photo receives plays heavily into the complex and ongoing battle for validation in the digital media age.

It's a shame to admit, but as a creative, a desire for popularity and reassurance from followers certainly impacts which artworks I choose to share on any given day. Trying something new - sharing an unexpected work - would normally receive a smaller number of 'likes', which wouldn't be such a problem if the app didn't act as a career portfolio for so many creative freelancers.

To be unshackled from the empty pursuit of likes offers users like myself the freedom to share without some of the associated anxiety, while making it difficult to compare the popularity of our work to others.

According to a statement shared online, Instagram is hoping the change will restore focus to the images being shared, not their perceived popularity.

"We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get," the statement read. "You can still see your own likes by tapping on the list of people who've liked it, but your friends will not be able to see how many likes your post has received."

"Watch people's egos come out to play here," one user commented. "How caught up in the validation of others do we need to be?"

Predictably, some Instagram influencers will find the change jarring.

After all, the validation of others has become their bread and butter. It's how they sell their value to brands and secure lucrative employment opportunities.

However, I think the change will be beneficial, in the long run, to those who manage to turn their social media feeds into cash.

It's no secret that the stock of social media influencers has been in decline , with brands relying less on Insta-stars to promote their products. Call it what you want - but an inflation of 'likes' and the rise of fake/bought followings has resulted in a growing perception that influencers are inauthentic and therefore not ideal brand ambassadors.

"Eventually there will be too many influencers, the market will be too saturated and the value of influencer posts will continue to plummet," Josh Ostrovsky, known as 'The Fat Jewish' on Instagram told CNN last year. 

Perhaps a back-to-basics makeover for the app will help users engage on a more authentic level with those they admire, while sparing the rest of us the oft-crippling pressure of living up to the hype.

In the meantime, follow me on Instagram and like my latest post.

Or don't. I guess it no longer matters  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sam Leighton-Dore is a SBS Pride staff writer and the author of 'How to Be a Big Strong Man'.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @SamLeightonDore or Instagram on @samleightondore.

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