The Harmful Effects of Likes and Followers

Social media has shaped the world and forced changes in ways that traditional media couldn’t because they lacked access. The capability of social media to spread news and information instantly and without limits resulted in its increased power to influence public opinion. The more we use social media, the more our thoughts, values and decisions become influenced by the medium.

By giving people the ability to share ideas, opinions and other contents, social media became a trusted, familiar and convenient tool in today’s communication and networking. We are voluntarily participating in sharing the indecent amount of personal information for the sake of socialization in this new cultural environment.

The fact that there is no real historical precedent for social media “Likes” illustrates how disturbing it is that we have invented a system whereby we can visibly quantify and publicly display our social worth. Throughout history, humans have come up with an abundance of ways to demonstrate their social worth, but none have been as pervasive and prevalent as the “Like” button.

The Outbreak of Comparison and Negative Body Image

Self-concept and self-esteem are heavily influenced by the process of social comparison (Buunk & Gibbons, 2007; Van Lange, 2008). Social comparison occurs when we learn about ourselves by comparing our own attributes with those of others.

Although we use social comparison in part to develop our self-concept, social comparison has an even bigger impact on our self-esteem. When we are able to compare ourselves favorably with others, we feel good about ourselves, but when the outcome of comparison suggests that others are better than we are, then our self-esteem is likely to suffer.

As one of the most popular sources of information, social media sites have the power to set the standards on what’s desirable and what’s not. Unfortunately, they provided unrealistic standards as to what is considered beautiful and desirable in today’s society.

With celebrities and social media influencers who portray their “perfect” bodies and “perfect” lives on social media in order to get bigger exposure, it’s ingrained in our brains that we must be like that in order to be successful and desired.

Today, body image is an issue for many people of both sexes. Seeing perfect images by people who seemingly have perfect bodies on a daily basis make us conscious about how different we look from those pictures. And not everyone comes to the right conclusions in this situation.

Thanks to an array of free applications, people now have the power to alter their bodies in pictures and curate their own image to become prettier, thinner and hotter. All this provides an illusion of control: people can choose to post photos where they look at their best and hide those that they are not 100% satisfied with. Perfectly staged photos can be further manipulated through editing apps, so we look exactly as we want.

Being aware of the need to curate and edit our images before posting them online inevitably lowers our self-esteem. We’re wrongly convinced that we are not good enough to be publicly displayed as we are. But, if we ask a 16-year old why they are putting all this effort into their social media showcase, they’ll tell us that it’s worth it because they will get more likes and followers.

The Influence of LIKES on Ego and Self-Esteem

There are certain core needs shared by every person on the planet. Once our physical needs are met, filling our core emotional needs becomes our number one priority. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the desire for approval is one of the strongest motivating forces known to humankind. Having “likes” as the approval mechanism in today’s world run by social media standards, it became a double-edged sword that could take us high or extremely low.

Inarguably, the line between a “like” and feeling ranked becomes blurred, which is why thousands of likes will feed our ego and several likes will downgrade our confidence in the image or content we posted. If we internalize this kind of negative feedback, we can begin to doubt our personal worth. This threatens our sense of security and disrupts our inner harmony.

The concept of the looking-glass self states that part of how we see ourselves comes from our perception of how others see us (Cooley, 1902). Many studies have supported a basic prediction that our self-concepts are often quite similar to the views that others have of us (Beer, Watson, & McDade-Montez, 2013). In a healthy social environment though, we have the possibility to also develop our self-concept independently of others, and then others base their views of us on how we see ourselves.

However, the influence of other people’s appraisals of ourselves are much stronger when displayed publicly, thus they over-power our own self-concept. The labeling bias occurs when others’ views and expectations of us are affected by that labeling (Fox & Stinnett, 1996). Where things get really interesting for this discussion is that number of likes and followers in today’s society became true labels of our online “worth”. Number of likes on a photo is a common measure of its quality and performance, while number of followers determines our “online success”.

“When our online expectations start to become self-fulfilling prophecies, our self-concept and even our behavior start to align with them. If we are repeatedly labeled and evaluated by others, then self-labeling may occur, which happens when we adopt others’ labels explicitly into our self-concept.” In other words, we start to identify ourselves and our worth with the ranks that we got on social media.

The narcissism and low self-esteem are nothing else than two sides of a same coin. Number of likes and followers on social media became either an ego-boost or a confidence crusher. It’s about curating our own image, how we are seen on social media, and then checking on how others respond to this image. Editing ourselves and constructing ourselves on these social networking sites seems to have an effect on how we see ourselves.

“Social networking sites are an outcome of a society that is self-absorbed. Despite the name “social networks”, much user activity on networking sites is self-focused.” – said Brittany Gentile, a UGA doctoral candidate who looked at the effects of social networks on self-esteem and narcissism. Contrary to what social media society promotes, “you get self-esteem from having strong relationships and achieving goals that are reasonable and age-appropriate. A healthy self-esteem is not something you should chase or take a shortcut to find.”

Is There a Solution?

We have built phlow, because we feel that there is no choice out there but to go with the herd, curate our socially-desirable lives and chase likes and followers. In 2019, it’s not the way to go. We need a new medium of communication, a collaborative content media for sharing meaningful stories, not faking perfect lives.

Life is messy and dysfunctional and photos can hide the truth that lies behind the lens. It’s easy to collect things that depict the life you’d like to have, organize them into a neat setting, and capture just the right amount of perfection to hide all the negative aspects of your life.

But everyone faces ups and downs in life. In the end of the day, don’t we all stay alone with ourselves and our not-so-perfect lives? Shouldn’t we be able to share our true story in a more creative, deeply meaningful and profound way than a superficial, shiny and glamorous Insta grid? Shouldn’t we be able to live a life detached from number of likes and followers that inaccurately measure our creativity, talent and capabilities to express ourselves online?

It comes down to “How do you rate a morning sun? How many likes would you give to the moon?” It might be a cliche, but, in reality, other people liking you is a bonus but you liking yourself is a real prize.

Curious to see how phlow works? Try it out here, it’s free!

Creator, photographer, idealist and traveller, in any order you like. Married to the most incredible woman on earth and dad to an amazing boy. The definition of luck!
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