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Instagram 'likes' will be hidden from today

Social media giant wants to ease pressure on us – so we will like them more

Instagram users will be unable to see how many ‘likes’ a post has received, in an Australian trial starting today.

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The trial aims to “depressurise” the social media platform owned by Facebook. Instead of seeing the number of likes, users will only see one user’s name and “others like this” at the bottom of an Insta post.

Likes are big business on Instagram.

According to Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy Mia Garlick: “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.”

Instagram is the third most popular social media site for Australians, with nine million active users each month. From an estimated population of more than 25 million, about 15 million Australians are drawn each month to Facebook and YouTube – our most popular social platforms.

“We are now rolling the test out to Australia so we can learn more about how this can benefit people’s experiences on Instagram, and whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story,” stated Garlick.

That’s right. This Instagram trial – Australia is the second country to try it, following Canada in May – claims to want to take the competitiveness out of social posting.

Likes are big business on Instagram. The rise of Insta Influencers – people paid for product placement and the like, based on levels of engagements with their posts – has fuelled a lust for likes.

While some make a buck out of suggestive snapshots and hashtags, the Instagram platform has found itself becoming a hotbed of bullying, body image issues and perfectionism. Last year, Pew Research Center revealed 43 per cent of teens feel “pressure” to only post what makes them look good – and 37 per cent feel “pressure” to only post what will attract most likes or comments.

Last week, Instagram introduced two new features to combat bullying.

New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, Italy and Brazil are likely next for the Instagram ‘likes’ trial. Australia was picked for the trial because it’s a nation into technology and our relatively small population has so many active users.

I’m not one of them. At least, I don’t think I have an account. Hang on. I’ll check … No, that’s another Ben McEachen.

But I’m in the minority among my friends and, you know, online friends. Hiding ‘likes’ is going to hit the virtual lives of plenty, for some time (Instagram has not said how long the trial will last).

I refresh to see who has smiley faced or commented or shared.

This removal of likes reminds me of Nosedive, one of the best episodes of poignant TV series Black Mirror on Netflix. Yes, the episode where real life is controlled by star ratings – ‘likes’, if you will – that everyone gives to each other.

Whether it’s ordering a coffee, having a chat at work or being a loving spouse, EVERYTHING is given a star rating. And your status in society rises or falls, depending on how everyone else rates you.

Not as far from our reality as we might like it to be. Even for those of us who claim to not care about social media “approval” – yet I refresh to see who has smiley faced or commented or shared.

Instagram’s trial and Nosedive are shrewd responses to a global culture of finding value in the measurements offered by social media.

Feeling valued is an instinctual part of what it is to be human, though. Just think about how many people and groups continue to seek recognition and validation from the rest of society; to have their worth acknowledged.

Apart from flashing back to Nosedive, the Insta trial reminded me of a valuable point made by an old-school influencer.

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells those following him that they are worth more than the birds (Matthew 6:26-27; 10:29-31). What he’s getting at is God cares so much about his people that he provides them with daily needs and protection from harm.

Without diving into the complexities of exactly how God does that – in a world where Christians often are persecuted or disadvantaged – stop to note what’s being revealed about value.

Jesus simply observes that the “birds of the sky” have what the need – and “aren’t you worth more than they?” This question begs an affirmative response. Yes, you are, and life can be lived in light of such a central truth.

Instagram’s trials might be freaking out some Influencers. But the removal of an online form of validation can’t shake what Jesus revealed to his followers.

And he didn’t even say it for the ‘likes’. He said so we might know lasting value.

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