why are people so obsessed with likes?

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

When I was running before school one morning in eleventh grade, a notification popped up on my phone. I glanced at the screen and was confused. Why would Rebecca* private message me? The preview of the message was the following:

Hey, could you do a favor for me?

Just a few months ago I was at a summer camp and that’s how Rebecca and I met. But we weren’t friends. We’d rarely interacted; it was obvious that she didn’t really want to talk with me. She was, as cliche and cringe as it is, part of a clique which didn’t include me and looked down upon those who weren’t like them.

After I finished my run I asked her what the favor was. When I read her reply, second-hand embarrassment rushed through me.

Can you like my profile picture?

What the heck?

This girl, who was super gorgeous, very popular and confident was asking someone to like her picture?

I didn’t have anything against her. I wished her well. But there was an unpleasant feeling that went through me when I saw this message– secondhand embarassment.

Was she really that desperate to make herself look a certain way on social media? Was she so desperate for that kind of artificial validation and image that she had to ask someone to like her post? It was just so surprising to me that someone who seemed so confident could be dependent on something like likes. The fact that someone who seemed so comfortable with themselves but still thrived off of the validation from other people was so interesting.

Just the fact that an average person wanted “likes” that badly was mind-blowing to me.

I was half-tempted to message her about how weird it was that she was asking me to do this, especially when she barely acknowledged me and acted standoffish towards me. Didn’t it embarrass her to ask me, someone who she didn’t know that well, to do her this “favor”? It was also kind of offensive toward me; I doubt she would ask any of the people she respected and didn’t act snobby toward to “like” her picture. I was also half-tempted to just do it for the sake of being nice.

I chose the latter.

Sure! I replied.

Thank you hahahaha you’re the best.

I know that I said that it sounded extremely desperate to me, but I wasn’t and still am not exactly perfectly pure from the thrill of getting “likes” either.

When I scroll through my social media feeds and “like” something, I’m not “liking” it to show any kind of worship for the people who are posting. I’m not “liking” to give validation. Now that I think about it, what does it actually mean when I “like” something? What am I communicating? Perhaps if I like a selfie or a photo of someone with their friends, I’ll like it probably as an act of complimenting them. Perhaps it’s a way for me to communicate appreciation of a certain outfit, background or other aesthetics. When I like a picture, I’ll forget about it minutes if not seconds later. If I see that same liked image just a few days later, I may not even remember having seen it before. I mean, it is such a perfunctory act to like someone’s picture or post; yet, people these fleeting tokens of attention and being noticed are taken to heart by the people who post.

There are just some exceptions to posts that I “like” that I actually might remember long after I’ve first seen it. For example, if the content is a beautiful piece of art or writing. Or if the post itself is something I perceive to be beautiful in a way that touches my soul and rejuvenates me and inspires me. Those kinds of posts are the kinds I am more likely appreciate and are harder to forget. Those kinds of posts are the ones where I feel like I learned a little more about someone and how they see the world, and from which I may even get a new worldview myself alongside threads of inspiration.

I’ve made several different Instagram accounts for several different purposes, but there are three that I use regularly: my “social” one where I follow and interact with friends, peers and acquaintances, one for my cats (yes, apparently I’ve turned into one of those pet owners), and a very personal one that is reserved for my thoughts, reflections, photography and art.

I made the first account probably just because “everyone” around me had one and I wanted to join in and explore this world being buzzed about around me. I started the second account almost a month ago; I wanted to compile the cuteness and adventures of my fur-babies and share them with other cat-lovers and make their days. I started the third account in my freshman year of college. It is a space where I can post whatever I wanted as I wished without the worry of spamming people’s feeds. I intended for them to be raw and real. I just wanted a space where I could have a portfolio of my reflections, a portfolio of me. I actually kept that account public most of the time until this past summer. While it was public, I was hoping that I could perhaps connect with or inspire people through my posts. But I’d started posting content that I’d rather keep more private, so I made the account private and became more picky about which follower requests to accept.

I learned another thing during one of my classes during freshman year. One of my peers mentioned that it was a common thing for her and other female college students to delete posts because they didn’t have enough “likes.” Apparently, it was embarrassing for them. I was astonished, and even moreso when I heard others close to me expressed having done the same thing. The concept just never occurred to me.

What kind of a society do we live in where seeing evidence of a click of a virtual button serves as a token of validation from others? It’s as if that “like” is a permanent way of saving evidence of temporal attention given to someone.

Are “likes” a substitution for genuine human connection, an illusion of desire, love and appreciation? Is that why so many people crave it so much– because it’s perceived as a way of being told that they’re important, because so many people, even if they’re extremely reassured with themselves, still have an infinite room to receive feelings of worthiness from someone else or illusions of admiration and love, even if they are just illusions and not the real thing? As pleasing at flattery may be, it’s not pleasant if it’s fake. It doesn’t help fill any void– it only emphasizes the presence of emptiness.

And as much I vouch against this commodification of validation and confidence through “likes,” I can’t say that I’m completely immune from it myself. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true.

Sure, I may not feel compelled to delete an Instagram post because it doesn’t have enough likes. And I definitely won’t even think about asking someone to “like” my posts. But I certainly notice if my Facebook profile picture has 200 likes versus 19. I wonder why that is. Do I get a boost in confidence because having a large number of likes makes me look “popular” and desired? Or do I feel that a “like” for my pictures is a “like” for me, evidence that others like me? Or do I see “likes” as compliments, the larger the number, the larger the group of people I’m receiving non-verbal compliments from? Is it wrong for me or anyone else to post a picture we feel confident in regarding our appearance, and then for us to have that confidence boosted with the indication of attention that it’s receiving via the number of “likes” and comments? That also brings me to the question– are we dressing for ourselves or others when we go outside and doll ourselves up in a way that we wouldn’t if we were to stay home alone?

Or are we doing it for our own individual self, knowing how confident we’ll feel through the image we present of ourselves to others and the resulting validation we get from them? Is that wrong? Does that kill how authentic we’re being, how much of genuine selves we’re really presenting to others? I’ll write a separate blog post discussing this in more extent. This is a concept and question that’s been intriguing me for some time now. But for now, I’ll go back to the perceptions I have of “likes.”

I still get that thrill of seeing a string of notifications telling me so-and-so and Bo and Joe and others “liked” or commented on my posts. And even if I’m not counting likes or even if I’m not hoping to get a certain number of likes, I still feel a light sense of satisfaction of connecting with someone– of having that least bit of socialization with someone. Especially now, with the Corona lockdown and all.

Despite this thrill I get of this kind of non-verbal socialization via social media likes, I really can’t imagine deleting a post just because of it not having a certain number of likes. I shouldn’t post things to gain other people’s approval. I shouldn’t post something to make myself “look” popular.

I don’t want to post to please others for the sake of getting them to like me. I want to post to express myself and to connect with people who can relate to me. I want to inspire ideas and be inspired by others’ ideas.

If I post a photo of myself, I want to post it because it’s a reflection of me– and not a reflection of what I think others to see or think who I am. I’m not trying to cater to others— I’m trying to cater to myself by being myself, and hopefully attract people who I would mesh quite well with. In other words, I’m not posting to impress. I’m posting to express. I’m posting to connect– with both myself and others.

What I’m trying to say is that when I post, I’m posting with the intent to express or share something meaningful. I’m posting to connect to and with people. I’m not posting to be worshiped by people.

2 Comments

  1. Helen

    Great post, about such an important topic. People can be so weirdly disjointed between their appearance on social media and their reality, both in terms of their true day-to-day lives and the confidence they exude. I have never deleted a post because it doesn’t have enough likes, but I certainly get a little twang of sorrow when a friend’s profile picture gets 300 likes and mine gets 20. It’s so important to connect with our true selves and feelings, but in an online world increasingly ruled by algorithms it’s hard to keep things in perspective.

    Like

    1. Samantha Shamim

      Thank you again, Helen! 🙂 And yes, that disconnection is so true. I can relate to feeling uncomfortable with that gap in number of likes. I just changed my Facebook profile picture a few days and it got about 20 likes. My previous profile picture had more than 100. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice the difference and wonder if that meant anything about how people saw me. But I emphasized how much I liked my new picture and that it didn’t matter whether others liked it or not— and by choosing to abide by my own preferences for myself over what others wanted, I felt empowered despite feelings of discomfort.

      Liked by 1 person

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