A Life Without Numbers

There’s been some thoughts floating around the web these past few weeks about the idea of not showcasing our social media following and likes on our pages. Would it make people feel better? Help improve their feeling of self-worth? Stop us competing with one another?

A lot of us value ourselves on the amount of likes we get or the amount of followers we have. It’s the worst thing for our self-esteem and in reality, quite silly to get upset over. Why should we base how pretty/valued we are on someone else’s verification of a virtual thumbs up? Why do we constantly seek the reassurance of likes and followers on social media?

Kanye West recently took to Instagram and Twitter to call out Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and other social media tycoons to help in the hiding of numbers. He tweeted, “There are people who are committing suicide due to not getting enough likes. Seeking validation in the simulation.” Kanye currently has a Twitter following of 28.4 million and an Instagram following of 3.5 million.

What would happen if likes no longer existed? Would we run around frantic, constantly asking people ‘Do I look ok?’ Do you still like me?’ ‘How do I know you still like me?’ The point is, why should we care? Why do we need this constant reassurance from strangers and people we barely even know?

Likes = self worth

I don’t know anyone that could honestly, honestly say that the number of likes they get doesn’t effect them at all. If you upload a picture to Instagram, you’re constantly checking the likes and comments, getting a buzz because you’ve hit a certain number in so many minutes. You think that it must be a really good picture. ‘I must look good because of the likes I’ve received.’

If you upload a picture and it doesn’t perform well with likes, you either delete it and feel like crap for the rest of the day or come up with other excuses as to why it didn’t get likes. Maybe it wasn’t the ‘peak time’ or ‘no one must be online’ or ‘it’s the algorithm’. I wish I could upload a picture and not worry about the amount of likes it gets, but this is how social media works. It’s validation. It’s showing off.

Although I do care about likes and follower numbers, I don’t know if I would want to hide them from the public eye. In my opinion, I think it would deter people from liking photos and therefore the person who uploaded would suffer in silence at the fact their photo didn’t receive many likes. It may end up making someone feel worse.

But in terms of followers, I would welcome it. A lot of people are concerned about their ‘ratio’, cautious not to follow too many people. If we hide the numbers, maybe we would be more inclined to follow whoever we please and stop caring about our following count being too high.

What would this mean for Influencers?

How would we know who is an Influencer and who isn’t? How would we differentiate the bigger Influencers from the more micro? Would it be better if we couldn’t tell? I think it would also set a level playing field and make users want to improve their content. You wouldn’t be able to tell the micro bloggers from the bigger Influencers which could be a great bonus for the more micro bloggers and earn them greater exposure.

Influencers live their lives around numbers, forever trying to grow and make these numbers even higher. For a lot of people, having a lot of followers is quite an achievement. They feel proud for the following they’ve built up over a number of years and I can see why this would be a reason against hiding the numbers.

For PRs in Influencer Marketing, we use these numbers to measure engagement and reach. How would we be able to do this without the transparency? Ask for screenshots and proof from the Influencers we are working with? It wouldn’t be the best solution to the problem.

Many people only have positive experiences of social media (how?!) and don’t see a need to hide follower numbers or likes. There is already an option on Instagram to hide comments from posts, but should we be able to have the same option for likes and followers?

Essena O’Neill – A mini case study

When it comes to social media and the pressures, one name always comes to mind.

I was in my first year of university and a few friends and I headed to the Fact Gallery in Liverpool where Shia LaBeouf was holding an odd experiment for inspiration. People would phone in and we could stand around and watch him and his team listen to ‘inspirational stories’.

While we were queuing to enter the room, there were Apple Macs dotted around the main entrance, all showing a video of a girl having, what looked to be, a mental breakdown.

As soon as I got home from the Gallery I googled ‘girl having meltdown over social media’ and it was the top result. I’ve wanted to write about Essena O’Neill ever since I discovered her story and the reason behind her quitting social media. I read her story, watched the video and searched her entire Instagram and social channels to get a better understanding of her. Her breakdown happened three years ago now and in my opinion wasn’t showcased in the media enough. Her breakdown was so honest and showed the effects social media can have on young people.

Essena O'Neill Social Media

Essena was tired of taking hundreds of pictures of the same pose until she got one that was perfect. She wouldn’t eat for the first part of the morning so that her stomach appeared empty, until she got a good bikini picture for Instagram. She would dress up as if she was heading out and take one hundred pictures only to take it all off and stay at home. The pressure to be perfect, appear to have an amazing social life and be constantly uploading flawless pictures got too much for her. She had 614,000 followers on Instagram.

Essena was only 18 when this happened and was making around $2,000 per Instagram post when promoting products to her followers. In October 2015, she deleted over 2,000 images from her feed that had no real purpose other than ‘self-promotion’ and changed the captions of the remaining 96 photos to show the reality behind them. This was before paid promotions had to be made transparent, so Essena felt extremely fake to her followers as she wasn’t letting them know she was being paid to promote items in her images.

“I remember I obsessively checked the like count for a full week since uploading it,” she wrote of her first-ever post, a selfie that now has close to 2,500 likes. “It got 5 likes. This was when I was so hungry for social media validation … Now marks the day I quit all social media and focus on real life projects.”

With this happening three years ago, we need to look at whether Instagram has improved or gotten worse? In terms of transparency and being able to show something is a paid-for promotion, Instagram has improved greatly. In terms of fake images, doctoring and low self-esteem… it hasn’t come much further. I would recommend you look into Essena’s story and watch her YouTube video. What she said and how she felt three years ago is still very relevant today.

A life defined by numbers

I would very happily welcome this change to social media. We are all living a life defined by how many followers we have, how many likes we get and how many views we receive. Do these numbers really mean anything? When you go out with your friends or walk down the street, your follower number is not printed across your forehead. Away from social media, you are just a normal person. You are not your numbers.

What I’m trying to say is that the numbers on these online platforms don’t define you as a person. There are far more important things to worry about, like what kind of person you are, your passions, hopes and dreams and motivation to change the world.

If you do have a large following on social media, I hope you use it for change. I hope you highlight the important things in life, not just what the best high-street concealer is. Don’t fall victim to becoming obsessed with your accounts and the numbers on them. Social media can make us feel incredibly insecure and want to hate ourselves because we don’t look like other people on there. But everything you see on Instagram is fake. There’s always a filter or Photoshop involved. No one shows their bad days, but everyone has them.

Don’t live your life determined by your numbers.

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