What do women think of Instagram’s move to remove likes? Study explores

By Sayujya S, Desk Reporter
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Social media is an integral part of many people’s lives and, despite its potential benefits, using social media can lead to a more negative body image especially when it involves appearance-related content.

In this context, Instagram is a particularly important platform, because it is extremely popular with approximately 1 billion active users and it is image-based. Indeed, Instagram use is associated with negative body image because of the idealized models on the platform.

Removing “likes”

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In 2019, Instagram experimented with removing users’ ability to view the number of “Likes” under other people’s posts. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri stated that their aim was to “shift the focus from how many Likes a post gets to the content shared,” and Director of Public Policy, Mia Garlick, stated that they wanted to “ease the pressure on users to get a lot of Likes.”

The move was a significant one because research has shown that most young people engage in like-seeking behaviour and adolescent girls have described using number of Likes as a measure of popularity and comparing themselves to peers with a higher number of Likes. Moreover, likes may signal what other people think is “beautiful,” thereby reinforcing societal beauty standards and appearance pressures.

The study

Inspired by these potential changes to Instagram, researchers at Flinders University in Australia, led by Dr. Ivanka Prichard, investigated women’s attitudes toward the removal of Likes.

The researchers surveyed 291 women in Australia, between 18 and 55 years old. The women completed questionnaires about their Instagram use, body image, and opinions related to the removal of Likes.

What did the research find?

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The majority of women were in favor of the removal of Likes on Instagram (nearly 67 percent). The remaining women were either unsure (nearly 23 percent) or against the removal of Likes (10 percent).

When asked to describe the potential benefits of the removal of Likes, 56 percent of women thought that it would lead to a reduced self-focus and negative self-views. For example, one woman described, “People will stop comparing their lives based on virtual meaningless numbers.”

Meanwhile, 37 percent of women thought that the removal of Likes would have health benefits, for example by helping people to feel more positively about their body, boosting self-confidence and reducing anxiety.

Negative consequences of likes

When asked to describe the potential negative consequences of the removal of Likes, 32 percent of women simply stated that there would be no negative consequences. However, around 20 percent of women described consequences for users or businesses who may be dependent on Instagram for income. For example, it may be difficult for influencers to concretely demonstrate their reach and attract sponsors. Lastly, around 10 percent of women thought that it could become difficult to identify trends and popularity of content, or could simply not have the intended positive benefits.

Is it the right fix?

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This study showed that most women were in favor of the removal of Likes from Instagram, and thought that it could have important benefits to well-being and to the quality of content shared on Instagram.

Negative body image contributes to many health risks like disordered eating, and low self-esteem. Removing Likes from Instagram may very well reduce these factors and improve body image.

However, based on the research many women were unsure or against the removal of Likes from Instagram, and questioned whether the removal of Likes would actually have the intended benefits. As one participant put it, “Shouldn’t we be improving self-esteem and education so that Likes do not affect people negatively the way they do instead of removing it?”

Future research into the impact of the removal of Likes will be valuable. For example, future research could involve experiments testing how images with or without Likes impact people’s body image. Future research should also certainly involve people from different geographic regions and demographic characteristics like different genders, cultural backgrounds etc.

Instagram had shelved the removal of Likes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but recently announced they would begin experimenting with it once again. This time, they will be giving users in some countries the option to remove the visibility of others’ Likes, and to remove the visibility of their own Likes to others.

Related: Quitting Instagram is hard, but this firm will pay you to put the time to a better use


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