By: Ty Hughes
Change is inevitable, especially in the fast-paced world of social media. By now, you’ve probably heard news of Instagram’s big shift towards online positivity with its decision to remove ‘likes’ from the platform. The idea being that users will “focus on the photos and videos share[d], not how many likes they get” according to a recent tweet by Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri. Let’s back up for a second. Aren’t “likes” and the notion of being *seen* the whole purpose of Instagram? The team and I were a bit skeptical of this sudden change in attitudes and tossed around a few questions. Why was change was really implemented? How will this affect the culture of social media? And lastly, what else is to come of social media in 2020?
Iconoclasm of the Influencers
Instagram has become a multimillion dollar source of revenue for influencers across the world. “Influential” people can sell and promote clothes, diet supplements, and even lifestyles on your IG feed. Calculating the value of a sponsored post’s ‘influence’ relies heavily on the quantity of engagement, i.e. likes, which are on the way out.
By removing the visibility of likes, influencers, brands and the agencies that power them will now have to find a new way to gather this information. Will Instagram provide a new way to calculate the reach and influence a profile has, perhaps for a fee?
With this change, Instagram is also hoping to tackle the toxicity rampant in online communities. Plans of approach have yet to be announced, meanwhile, comment sections continue to operate like the Wild West. Recently, the platform’s parent company Facebook came under fire by way of House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for its lack of ethical practices in online community management, particularly with the spread of false information via political ads. While Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged “lying is bad” (no kidding), there’s still an incredible amount of improvement needed on the platform to ensure communities are safe and accurately informed.
Gen Z-enon & Instagram of the 21st Century
As Millenials age out of the spotlight, Gen Z is primed to become the next wave of social media users shaping the landscape of online engagement. This generation grew up alongside social media and hardly remember a time when users only edited photos with in-app presets — how will they react to these coming changes? For one, they are much more socially-aware and adaptable than generations before. Gen Z is constantly being thrown new information, findings, products and trends that have a shelf-life of mere seconds.
Secondly, the notion of online violence and cyber-bullying has been a part of their social imaginary from the time they were born. They rallied for safe online communities and introduced the world to “finstas” and social theories like “cancel culture.” That to say, inclusivity, equality and safety are certainly in good company with this group.
While canceling the instant gratification of likes will definitely be an adjustment, I predict we’ll see more compelling, thoughtful and authentic content filling feeds in the coming year.