The traditional social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are insanely popular nowadays, some more than others depending on the demographic and age group. However, regardless of background, most platforms share one aspect that establishes their tight and unforgiving grip on many of its users: likes and shares. Virtually every platform has its own version of showing one’s approval of a certain post shared by another person. Facebook has ‘reacts’ such as a thumbs up emoji, a heart emoji, a laughing face emoji etc. while Instagram has ‘likes’ in the form of small hearts. Every time someone likes or comments on your photo of some pretentious Asian-fusion dish you’ll instantly receive a notification on your phone and/or browser and this gives you a certain feeling of accomplishment or happiness, albeit tiny. Nevertheless, each time you receive a notification that yet another person has liked one of your posts, chances are that your brain will release (a tiny amount of) dopamine which leads you to wanting more of that high. Dopamine can be gained from all sorts of activities, accomplishments and small victories such as when taking a hit of heroin, having sex or eating your favourite pizza, to name a few. This dopamine release, among other reasons, leads to people being addicted to craving these activities, perhaps even all three examples if they’re brave.
While receiving a ‘like’ gives you a tiny boost in dopamine levels and a tiny bit of happiness and satisfaction, it is such an easy route to continually feeling this particular way. One can only have so much pizza, heroin and sex before getting lazy and wanting to find easier alternatives to increase your dopamine production. This is where social media comes in. You can post pictures, status updates, comments, blog posts etc. from the comfort of your cozy bed via your phone or laptop and literally lay back as your phone buzzes with each incoming like and comment by your peers, effectively giving you tiny virtual pats on the back for a job well done. Like any high, it never lasts forever. Soon enough you’ll be craving that same high again and post again, including more hashtags to increase the number of likes and potential for instant gratification.
While this method of attaining minuscule amounts of dopamine is pretty low-hanging fruit, it gets the job done for many of social media’s regular users. Of course, social media can also be used for other purposes, but a large portion of users are simply not able to quit exclusively because of the instant gratification it offers. That’s one of the downsides of social media. There are countless third-party applications and websites which only exist to monitor how many people your posts on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram reach, how your amount of likes have fluctuated throughout the months and years, which hashtags are the most active etc. All of these tools are designed for people to, perhaps, expand their business’ presence on social media but it is undoubtedly also used by regular people and wannabe professional influencers to monitor their dopamine hook-up. Two days ago, Instagram announced that it will be rolling out their new approach to likes: hiding the counter. Unfortunately, it is only hiding the counters to the public and the poster of the photo can still see the amounts. This only stops people from comparing their like-count to that of other people. Instagram’s reason behind this change is that they want to “strengthen conversations over popularity contests”. Who knows. Naturally, it’s in Instagram’s own best interest to keep people hooked to platform so they wouldn’t completely overhaul the system. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.