Michiana counselors, teens explain the possible impacts of a "like ban" on Instagram
WATERVLIET, Mich. -- As they chat with each other in a church basement, Michiana teens Alivia Abram, Meg Hollerbach, and Jack Francis say Instagram can be fun.
“A great way to keep up with people you don’t see very often,” said Hollerbach.
“I do like seeing other people’s posts and just thinking wow that’s cool.” said Francis.
However, the high schoolers say some users take the photo-sharing platform too serious. They explain many of their peers care about how many likes their pictures get and who is liking those photos.
“You’re striving for a bigger number,” said Francis. “A lot of people use it to make themselves feel better.”
When that isn’t achieved, these teens say it can put people down.
“Part of the reason I chose not to have social media is because of the pressure that it puts on me,” said Abram.
“[Teens think] everyone has to like my picture or if they don’t, I’m ugly, or I don’t have friends,” said Hollerbach. “Using Instagram so much kind of skewed my perception. So it was less of like I’m going out with my friends to go out with my friends and it was more like I’m going to go out with my friends and get cool pictures”
Research backs this up.
A 2017 study found Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and well-being among teens and young adults. It suggested the app contributes to low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
“Absolutely the like button impacts a person’s mental health,” said Mary Andres.
Andres is a licensed professional counselor at Southwestern Medical Clinic in Stevensville, Mich.
She explains that when a person’s picture is liked, it boosts his or her dopamine levels and validates what someone is doing.
“As adults, we go, ‘Oh that’s nice,’ but, as you know, a developing young person, that’s [is now] part of the landscape of their now development,” said Andres. “That’s like that dopamine boost, [that feeling of], ‘Oh I did something good!’”
If that isn’t achieved, people think they’re not good enough which can cause people to feel sad, angry, anxious, or jealous.
Andres suggests if anyone is experiencing these issues while using social media, they should keep their electronic devices out of their bedroom and set up cut off times and time limits for using the app. She says parents should also know the passwords for their children’s accounts.
“The more we put something out there, the more we need those likes to be happy or to be perceived as connected to other people,” said Andres. “We know that that’s a false sense of connection.”
But, in an effort to combat these issues and make the app feel less like a competition, Instagram is testing a “like ban.”
Users who are part of the trial will no longer see how many likes a post gets, however people can still look at who like their post.
It started in Canada in April. The company recently announced it will expand the test to more markets around the world like Ireland and Italy.
The ban could be implemented in the U.S. depending on results, but Instagram has not disclosed those at this time.
“I think it’s wise to try,” said Andres.
Some think it would reduce the issues associated with the platform.
“I think it would be a really amazing proposition,” said Abram. “You wouldn’t really be able to see how many people dislike what you’re going through.”
Others disagreed saying there are probably deeper causes to a person’s mental health problems than the number of likes they get.
“I get where they’re coming from, but I don’t know if it’s going to change anything, solve anything,” said Hollerbach. “It’s not really a huge defining factor in most people’s social media use.”
Hollerbach and Francis propose more support for mental health programs, additional education on mental health issues, and decreased stigma for getting help.
At the end of the day though, this test is something only time will tell and for now, these kids will just continue to chat.