Is Social Media Giving Us ‘Status Anxiety’?

June 4, 2019

Social media giants Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are considering changes that could minimize status markers—likes and followers—when using their sites. They say chasing the likes and follows are giving users “status anxiety,” while some critics say it’s a way for the social media sites to hide an overall decrease in user activity.

Instagram has recently announced that it wants to make follower counts “much less prominent” in user profiles. Instead, Adam Mosseri, who heads Instagram, said at an event in late April that they’re exploring a “bigger idea of private like counts” and removing numbers under posts. Some Instagram users in its test market in Canada recently saw this message: “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.”

It’s a sentiment being shared by other social media giants. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said at a recent TED conference, “If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasize the follower count as much. I would not emphasize the ‘like’ count as much. I don’t think I would even create ‘like’ in the first place.”

Why all the dislikes for the likes?

“We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition,” Mosseri said at the F8 conference in late April. He wants the space to feel “much less pressurized.” Chasing likes and followers can trigger status anxiety and become “toxic,” social media experts say. Dorsey also says that if the numbers were eliminated, that would no longer provide “incentives” for the wrong things.

But critics say social media giants may be wanting to hide another trend. Twitter’s growth has mostly been stagnant this year. Twitter is no longer reporting “monthly active user” metrics to investors and is instead emphasizing “monetizing daily active users.” On Instagram, people aren’t posting to their feeds as much as they once did. Instead, they’re opting to post “Stories.”

“Removing a metric from beneath regular Instagram posts might alleviate some stress among users; it would also help minimize the sense that the thing that first made Instagram popular is in decline,” The New York Times reports. “Follower counts do not necessarily translate to people actually engaging with posts; it’s not uncommon, for example, to see a brand with hundreds of thousands of followers post updates that receive virtually no human interactions.”

A metric-free social media, however, would look very different without likes, views, and follower metrics prominently placed. Likes and retweets have long been strong signals on social networks of power and prominence—even ad money.

But “what you see on Twitter and Instagram already depends on a mixture of signals—things you’ve liked in the past, how much time you’ve spent looking at a particular user’s content, whether you communicate privately with a given user and whether you have an affinity for some topic or another—not just chronology, likes or retweets,” The New York Times reports. “Those signals are all metrics too, of a sort, invisible to us but very much legible to the platforms themselves. Imagine a ticker in your Instagram app counting up the number of times you’ve scrolled, or tallying the number of times you’ve tapped, or counting up the seconds you’ve spent looking at an image.”

Are Likes and Followers the Problem With Social Media?” The New York Times (June 2, 2019)