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Are We Nearing the End of the Age of Likes?

Fresh off of my return from vacation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t immediately issue a massive ‘thank you’ to Russell for filling in in my stead. He did quite a bang-up job manning the blog for three weeks—I think he’s got a handle on this whole blogging thing. So thanks, Russell, for providing some top shelf content while I was away.

Now any time you leave for a trip, a common refrain from your peers is, “Take lots of pictures!” Back in the aughts, the result of this was heading to the local grocery store to develop film from your travels to physically share with friends and family. Seems weird now, right?

Of course things have shifted mightily since the genesis of social media, and for most, that’s now where our memories live—in digital photo albums across the internet. An important component to sharing photos on social media is the engagement factor—likes, reactions, comments. Well, one major photo-centric platform may be getting rid of that altogether.

If you’ve been following the news and the maelstrom of negative headlines following social media companies like ominous storm clouds, you’re aware of some changes that have been proposed to make the environment a more “friendly” place. Instagram is flirting with a massive adjustment to its app in that light, testing the removal of public “likes” and story views. These, of course, form the basis of the platform’s algorithm (High levels of engagement with specific photos will push them higher into your feed), and also provide the user with a shot of digital MSG when they see the likes start rolling in.

That’s why you’ll hear conversations about “How many likes I got on that photo.” Positive interaction naturally makes people feel good, and their accumulation of likes plastered on their photos turns into a social media bragging point.

But it also fosters an extremely competitive environment where the memory becomes less about the photo and more about how popular it is. For that reason, Instagram has begun testing hiding these likes from everyone but the user.

So does this signal the end to the Age of Likes? Not necessarily. The all-important algorithm will still boost highly-engaged posts to the top of feeds, so you’ll of course be able to glean the popularity of a certain image by where it resides. Should Instagram go all-in on hiding likes, it will also create a dividing line of sorts—those who simply value their own content for what it is, and those who key in on the number of those clicking on it.

Essentially, screenshots of user likes will become a “thing” on Instagram. I can think of nothing less engaging.

It’s good news that social media platforms are tinkering with methods to make them friendlier, less competitive places. But with the mental and monetary value many people derive from levels of likes, views, and comments, there’s simply no way they’ll be able to eliminate that aspect from the platforms they created.   

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