If we were to consider all of the things important to us, where would “being liked” fall? For many of us, (myself included) we would say it’s not important at all, but we wouldn’t act that way. There’s a part of us that always wants to be liked. It’s safe to say any healthy person would rather be viewed positively than negatively. As we grow older, however, most of us seem to agree that “being liked” isn’t something we want to seek out.
It makes logical sense to try and seek out approval. If you act a certain way that isn’t your true self in an attempt at gaining approval or praise, there isn’t much to risk and a there’s a lot to gain. If somebody doesn’t like you, who cares? It wasn’t really you, anyway. And if somebody does like you, great! Now you have a connection.
The problem is that it won’t last. The image you’ve created is a façade, and eventually a façade cracks. Whoever you really are will slowly creep through the outer casing you’ve assembled. One day, you’ll burst through that protective shell and the person whose approval you’ve won will tell you that you’ve changed or that you’re just not the same. Desperate, you’ll try to climb back into the fractured shell, but it can’t be rebuilt. Part of your true self will always be showing through the holes.
We’ve all gone through that process to some degree. After doing it too many times, we realize it’s too difficult, it never lasts, and when it ends, it ends in pain. At some point, we say “screw it” and just decide to be ourselves and settle with the results. If somebody likes it, cool; and if they don’t, cool. I mean fuck them, but cool.
In the real world, it’s not always clear if somebody likes us. And if they do, it’s even harder to know exactly why they like us. On social media, however, we’re provided with much more clarity. The “like” button gives us exact information: who is liking what, when they liking it, and how often.
If somebody likes one photo, we can assume they liked it because of context. Maybe it was a photo of us taking a bike ride, and the one follower we have who is super into bikes liked it, but he never likes any of our other photos. If somebody only likes our photos when we’re half naked, we can assume they just like our looks. If somebody likes every one of our posts, we can assume they’re a good friend, would like to be a good friend, or are sexually interested in us. When there are clear patterns, it becomes fairly easy to distinguish if a person likes us or they like just the photo or post.
When the patterns aren’t so clear, it becomes more challenging. If somebody likes a decent amount of your posts and there doesn’t seem to be anything correlated amongst the posts, it could mean a number of things. They could just like a lot of posts in general and not really care about yours in particular, they might really like you and not want to be too egregious about it, or anything in between.
Whatever the case, it feels good when somebody likes a post. When we get a lot of likes on a particular post, we notice. Immediate access to this information changes the way many of us post in the future. We can look at newspapers as an example of how this can play out.
In the past, newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian would distribute their issues solely in print. In order to read certain articles, people would have to buy that day’s paper, or a subscription. There weren’t any stand-alone articles, and there was no line of direct, reliable feedback on specific articles. The publication had to hold its reputation on honest journalism and strong writing and editing, through and through. That’s what would sell more papers.
Now, on the internet, these publications have access to immediate feedback on specific articles. They know which articles get the most attention, and they know it right away. Since any business is in it to make as much money as possible, they understandably take notice, and start to post more articles which are similar. More views, more readership, more money. Sounds good. The people get more of what they want to read, and the publication gets more readers and more profit. It’s a win-win. Until it’s not.
The media is built upon truth and trust. It relays the truth to the masses, and the masses trust the media to do so. When one of these pillars breaks, the whole thing begins to crumble.
As these publications start to place more interest in views, clicks, or “likes”, they inherently begin to stray from truth. Their motivations start to gear more towards audience and subject, slowly shifting the needle away from truth and quality. As more articles are posted with a certain audience in mind, the paper is soon seen as an extension of a certain way of thinking rather than a communicator of truth. The publication becomes a place where more people go to confirm what they already believe and less people go to as an unbiased source for information. As this happens amongst major news outlets, people start to lose trust in the media as a whole. The readership goes up in the short term, but unless the strategy is corrected, it will all come crashing down in the long term.
So, the same way publications pay attention to how many people interact with their articles, people on social media keep an eye on how many people interact with their posts. Many people could care less, and continue to post whatever they want, simply sharing the moments they enjoy in their lives. Others try to tailor their posts, constantly seeking recognition, approval, and praise. They ride the high, but somewhere along the line they lose themselves. They see the likes piling up by the thousands, but they don’t know if any of them display an actual liking of who they are, entirely and honestly. They come to realize that being liked is important, but only if it’s by people who truly know them. And if nobody truly knows them, there might as well be nothing there to like.