Like for like: New, caring Instagram or PR stunt?

By Ollie Tunmore, Magenta Associates,

In an online world governed by a new business model of ‘influencers’, Instagram, one of the world’s leading social media sites, recently announced that it will trial hiding the number of likes on posts.

The social media giant, which is owned by Facebook, announced the news on 18th July, citing that the decision was being made to test ‘removing pressure’ for users to meet societal stresses of popularity and success online. The app has over 1bn active monthly users, with 71 per cent of them aged below 35. This is an unquestionably bold move from Instagram which will have a lasting impact should it come into effect for all users.

Announcing the trial in seven countries, Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy stated: “We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.”

But this raises questions around the fundamental premise of Instagram as a business model.

The very nature of the site (after sharing images and videos, sure), is to connect with people, gain a following, and build effectively what some may well refer to as a personal brand online. So much so, that many people make their living from ‘Influencing’ online; for varying fees from hundreds to tens of thousands of pounds per post, depending on their social following.

So, particularly focusing on the ‘influencer’ side of this move, what does this mean? Instagram influencer Luisa Christie commented on Twitter: “I feel like they have created a solution to a problem that they themselves created.” She continued: “I love Instagram, but I do think this seems more like a PR moment than actually caring about their users.” Indeed, if Instagram genuinely cared about the impact of their user’s mental health, they could spend more time monitoring the usage of content.

Tom Evans, owner and founder of AREA EIGHTEEN, a non-gender-conforming fashion brand, commented: “I fully believe this is a PR stunt. I think they know that this will really shake the game up, and they want to create a bit of noise. I would even go as far as saying that some people potentially enjoy the challenge of being able to up their numbers and revel in their follower counts; I think that’s just part of the game when it comes to social media, unfortunately.”

It’s no secret that the prodigious rise of social media in the past decade has caused an incontestable effect on the use of phones, technology and social media. Subsequently, the largest group of users (18-35) can be dramatically affected by both the positives and the negatives of this rise.

There is, without doubt, pressure for the youth of today to have a presence on sites such as Instagram; but it is important to question just how much this latest move from Instagram is about the genuine welfare and concern of their users, or whether it is more about making news headlines and trying to rejig the social game.

Photo by lalo Hernandez on Unsplash

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