If we were to consider what’s important to us, where would “being liked” fall? For many of us, (myself included) we might claim it’s not very important; and even though we may believe that to be true, we probably wouldn’t act that way. We wish it wasn’t important for people to like us; that sure would make things a lot easier. But, it is. Being liked is a positive experience which improves our mood, confidence, and energy.
If you’re like me, however, you’ve probably questioned how many people would like you if you were undeniably yourself. And if you have a personality like mine, you know that you can’t always be yourself. I always want to make a joke, but it’s not always the right time to do so. I have to sacrifice a part of myself depending on the situation. Knowing when to let your true self shine and when to pull it back is a constant balancing act.
It’s risky to be yourself. If you act a certain way in contrast with your true self in an attempt at gaining approval or praise, there isn’t much to risk. If somebody doesn’t like you, who cares? It wasn’t really you, anyway. And if somebody does like you, great! Now you’ve made a connection.
The problem is, the connection is based on a façade, and eventually a façade cracks. Whoever you really are will slowly creep through the fragile 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 poking 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 screw 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 are liking it, and how often.
If somebody likes only one photo, we might 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 may assume they’re a good friend, would like to be a good friend, or are interested in us sexually or romantically. 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. This type of immediate feedback affects how we 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 the goal of any business is to make as much money as possible, the newspaper pays special attention to these patterns and tries to take advantage by posting similar articles. More views equals more readership equals 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 viewed 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 rather than as a source of unbiased 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, we have to decide. Are we the honest news of the past or the distrusted media of the present? Will we use the powerful tool of social media to connect and grow with other people by expressing our honest selves, or will we use it to gather praise for a manufactured version we’ve created while we watch the true self die?