The Currency of Social Media Likes

Lynn Schreiber

“Put this on YouTube and it will go viral”, isn’t just heard from teens. Even little kids are telling their parents to share their funny videos online, and from a young age, they know the value of ‘likes’ and shares. The currency of social media likes, and the way it affects children’s self-esteem is a problem that worries parents and teachers around the world.

Old Style Collectors

So why are likes different to old-style collections? Kids are collectors; you only need to look at the bedroom of any 7 or 8 year old. Whether it is Pokemon cards, marbles or pretty stones … lots of kids have a collection of some kind. Are likes just the modern day equivalent?

buy likes instagramIn one way, I’d say they are, but one thing makes them different. The likes collected are not inanimate objects, they are expressions of approval, of love and acceptance. The validation that kids are receiving from their friends is simultaneously confidence boosting, and confidence deflating.

In the past, children would barter Panini cards. Now they barter with likes. My daughter was still in primary school when she told me that some of the girls in her class had obviously bought fake followers on Instagram, “It’s like SO obvious, when they go from no followers to hundreds of followers overnight”.

Forming Opinions

Just as stand-up comedians are trained to be funny by observing which of their lines and expressions are greeted with laughter, so too are our thoughts online molded to conform to popular opinion by these buttons.

A status update that is met with no likes (or a clever tweet that isn’t retweeted) becomes the equivalent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewritten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to conform to the opinions of those around us.

During their tweens and teens, kids start to form their own opinions, to decide what they believe, and in whom they believe. The lessons they learn will stay with them throughout their life. It’s important to give them access to a wide range of ideas and political viewpoints, and enable them to make up their own mind.

Of course we parents influence them, both deliberately and through them copying or mirroring our stance, but it’s also an age when it’s normal for kids to rebel against their parents’ opinions.

On social media, their first look at a news update or video is often to see what other people are thinking. How many of their friends liked the video? What are people saying in the comments? Instead of thinking about what they’ve read or watched, there is pressure to conform to their peers.

Likes and Self-Esteem

As soon as they start using social media (and I’m including YouTube in this description, as it is the service that younger kids use a lot), kids start to equate [likes] with popularity. This impression is strengthened when they hear talk about a video going viral, or a YouTuber celebrating their one millionth follower.

What happens when a girl posts a message on Instagram, and no one likes it? Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Still no comment, even though her friends are online, and on Instagram. She can see them commenting on other posts, but not on her post. She has to make a decision. Does she leave the post up, or delete it, and hope no one noticed?

Followers mean power and popularity, and the ranking doesn’t stop with YouTube. Girls post photos on Instagram, and measure their worth via the <3 they receive.

The End of Likes?

Some commentators are calling on social networking apps to remove the like buttons. I don’t believe this will happen – the currency of social media likes is important to their popularity too, which is why Instagram made it even easier to like a photo, by enabling the double tap of a photo to post a pretty <3. Even if social media companies did remove like buttons, I’m not sure it would make a difference. Users would find another way of expressing approval with a single click.

Likes, clicks and shares rule the media landscape, and it doesn’t look as if this will change any time soon. People are getting wise to click-bait headlines, but they still click, and the longer a website can keep a reader clicking, the more money they make from advertisers. Websites encourage sharing and liking, because they will reach more readers, and the more readers they reach, the more advertising revenue they earn. They need likes even more than the teenage girls they so often ridicule!

What Can Parents Do?

As human beings we are driven by the need to be accepted and liked. Compliments create high self-esteem and confidence. All we have done is replace human interaction with a button on a screen.Hitting ‘like’ or ‘heart’ or ‘favourite’ takes one second of our time and whilst it validates the other person in their own mind, it also brings ourselves to the attention of that person. Look… I hit the attention-seeking button… I care about you … 

 If the end of likes isn’t in sight, all we can do as parents, is to talk to our kids about this issue. Take their worries seriously. You may think that this is ridiculous, and worry that they are turning into narcissistic clones of their friends. It’s an important part of teenage life, and indeed humanity, the seeking of approval from peers. Social media likes are simply the modern way of showing this approval.

Try to moderate your own comments with regards to videos going viral, or how many comments or likes your posted update on Facebook has. Don’t use your social networking sites to garner approval – you know the kind of updates I mean, the passive aggressive “Some people just need to get a life!!!!” kind of post designed to encourage friends to ask, “You ok, hun?”.

Model responsible usage of social media by communicating with friends and being positive. Remind your kids that real friendship is more important than fake online love, and that their worth is not measured by a blue thumb or a red heart.


Further Reading

The Truth about Instagram 

If you believed the headlines about the social networking site Instagram and self-esteem, you’d snatch the smartphone from your daughter and never let her open the photo-sharing app ever again. “Most depressing social network”, “killing your self-esteem”, “Instagram Envy!”… were just a few of the articles I found when searching for information. More than any other network, Instagram is criticised as a social media site that damages self-esteem. It is creating a generation of selfie-obsessed teen girls, whose only aim is to receive at least 100 likes on their uploaded photos. When their photos aren’t valued by their peers, the girls develop self-esteem issues, which damage them in other areas of their life. It all sounds pretty scary, but what is the truth behind the headlines, and what can parents do to help their children to use Instagram to boost their confidence rather than dent it? … Read More


Addicted to Likes – Maureen O’Connor 

A self-centered man joined Instagram and ran into a problem: Since he neither looked at nor “liked” his friends’ posts, they thought he was snubbing them. “I am only on Instagram or Facebook to humblebrag,” Rameet Chawla told the Daily Dot. “I don’t consume other people’s information.” So Chawla, a programmer, created a bot that would crawl his feed and automatically like every single picture that every single person he followed posted. The result: He became incredibly popular on Instagram. His follower count rocketed. His pictures were liked more often. He became so Insta-famous, someone stopped him on the street to commend his Insta-magnificence… Read More

How Social Media Affects Our Self-Perception – Kelsey Sunstrum

Social media puts an interesting lens on the creation of the self, and how this construction affects our mental well-being. The ideal self is the self we aspire to be. My ideal self would be a 25-year-old successful freelance writer who lives in a perpetually clean house and who always takes the time to put on makeup before she leaves the house…. Read More


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