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Instagram removing likes can close the gap between people's authentic and social selves

Two weeks ago, Instagram expanded on an experiment to multiple countries including New Zealand — to hide how many 'likes' people's posts receive. People can still see how many likes their own photos receive, but won't see counts for other people's posts.

This is a really positive move, as well as a new challenge for influencers and marketers. 

Removing the metric of likes reduces the hunger for success and the urge to compare yourself against your peers. It should reset the experience, making it less addictive and competitive, and more about sharing and connection.

It had to happen, and it’s refreshing to see a self-awareness of some of the negative behavioural trends that these platforms encourage. As well as a willingness to respond with real change.

Conversely, I was surprised to see a piece of work win big at Cannes recently with the “Digital Clothing Collection”.

 

 

It suggests that today we live in a paradox, on one hand, we “want to express our style and creativity online”, but at the same time we’re forced to buy lots of clothes to do this — and that this contributes to production waste across the globe. The solution is to create digital fashion, clothes that we can map onto images of ourselves and share in social, enabling us to keep up with the relentless pace of social perfectionism and save the planet at the same time.

While I love the disruptive nature of this and appreciate the need to address the massive waste problem that fast fashion is responsible for (up to ten cubic meters of fashion waste is dumped or burned every second), it feels like the potentially negative impacts of digital fashion have been overlooked.

For me, there are massive issues in the way this supports and fuels the need for social acceptance online. Not to mention the fact you still have to buy these infinitely copyable digital garments.

Creativity and expression are obviously super important but to me, it feels like digital fashion further separates our real selves from our avatars, our online personas. They strive for the perfect projected self.

Socially prescribed perfectionism is the term used to describe the tendency for an individual to believe that others expect perfection from him or her. And it’s on its way up, accelerating in the last 30 years from 9% to 18% of western populations, and it’s predicted to affect 1 in 3 by 2050. Worryingly, but not surprisingly, it has a large correlation with mental illness.

Our young people are asking "Do I look cool/slim/fit/hot/rich enough?" "Should I look more like that celebrity or influencer? “Do I need to get the latest outfit to stay on trend?". The competition is cut-throat — it leads to the constant need to improve — and in turn breeds a profound sense of hopelessness. Unfortunately, hope is not restored by frequently acquiring a new digital outfit.

When we increase the gap between our authentic selves and our social selves, we only become more isolated and struggle to be empathetic with others.

I applaud the businesses and people that are taking steps towards reducing the competitive nature of social media, and who are subsequently releasing some of the pressure that most young people feel to curate their online personas.

As brands, clients and agencies we have to be supportive of any move towards products and services that are aware of the issues and are moving to positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people.

It feels like we have a long way to go.

Matt Barnes is head of digital at Colenso BBDO.

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