A World Without Likes: When Likes are Privatized

Maria Holck Ertner & Gry Grave

Student thesis: Master thesis


Instagram has been a co-creator of the so-called like culture, which is based on the ability to recognize others using the like feature. In 2019, Instagram initiated a trial of privatizing the like feature, meaning that the users who were unwilling partakers of the trial were not able to see the number of likes on other users’ content on Instagram. Instagram publicly announced that the privatization of likes as an attempt to better the mental health of the platform’s users. However, this has caused outrage from a vast amount of creators, including influencers, as these users are relying on their ability to create engagement around content, making them relevant for the marketing purposes of businesses. This thesis aims to examine how the privatization of Instagram’s like feature affects how users utilize Instagram as a social media platform, and how this may affect the Danish market for influencers. The examination is based partly on empirical data derived from a survey and partly on empirical data derived from a focus group interview. The survey was created to simulate Instagram with the purpose of showing how respondents choose to utilize the like feature when presented directly to different photos and influencers. The focus group is used to analyze the patterns that lie behind the utilization of Instagram as a social media platform. The empirical data is analyzed through a theoretical framework consisting of different theories. Theories formulated by Zygmunt Bauman and Axel Honneth are applied to create a basis for understanding the current societal circumstances for identity, recognition and community. This is applied to present the underlying conditions of the existence of social media, the like culture and influencer marketing. To examine how interactions take place within Instagram as a platform, theories formulated by John B. Thompson and Joshua Meyrowitz are applied to the theoretical framework. Thus, these theories are utilized with the purpose of examining how Instagram’s users interact with influencers through the use of the features available on Instagram. Furthermore, Meyrowitz’ interpretation and development of part of Erving Goffman’s theoretical apparatus is applied with the purpose of examining how different levels of self-presentation can be used to create relationships and engagement on Instagram. Theories developed by Elisabeth Hoff-Clausen and Mark C. Suchman are applied with the purpose of examining how influencers create and maintain online ethos and legitimacy through their self-presentation on Instagram. All of these theories compile the actions that influencers as well as users can choose to utilize within the platform, Instagram. Therefore, Sine Nørby Just and Ib Tunby Gulbrandsen’s theory on the Triple A model is utilized. This theory is used as a means for analyzing how Instagram is viewed as an assemblage containing different affordance, which create the basis for how Instagram users show agency on the platform. This theory is also used as a framework for the analysis, in which Instagram is analyzed as an assemblage that contains features which contain different affordances and constitutes the basis for the Instagram agency shown by our respondents. Throughout the analysis, which is compiled of two individual parts, it is concluded, that the like feature is mainly used as a tool for recognizing friends on Instagram. Furthermore, it is argued that the privatization of likes will result in a devaluation of the like feature, especially regarding content created by influencers. With the purpose of being able to conclude on this thesis’ problem statement, some of the results from the two analyses are discussed. Throughout the discussion, it is concluded that the privatization of likes will most likely cause a significant shift in the way Instagram users utilize the platform, how they interact with influencers and how this affects the like-culture. Furthermore, it is discussed how this may cause problems and changes inside the influencer industry. Finally, this examination concludes that the privatization of likes will result in great changes for both regular users, influencers and society, and that this will significantly weaken influencer’s position on the market. They will no longer be able to show engagement rates and will therefore experience major problems in terms of showing their worth as influencers that can be utilized as a way of doing advertisement.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages111