The Power of Likes in Social Media

Dec 05, 2016

Social media has become as ingrained in our culture as going out to dinner or celebrating St. Patrick’s day; it’s just something we do. While many adults have a healthy relationship with social media, having spent a better part of their life without the Internet, most kids can’t say the same.

We know that they love texting—in fact, 90 percent of teens text, with an average of 30 texts sent each day, as reported by Pew Research Center and their love for social media is no different.

The same Pew Research social media overview reports that 24 percent of teens report being online “almost constantly” and 71 percent use more than one social media site, with Facebook being the most popular.

While your teen may be posting harmless photos, commenting on friend’s posts, and changing their profile picture, it’s why they’re doing it, and what they’re doing without realizing, that matters most.

The power of a “like” is stronger than you may initially think. From addiction to self-esteem, you may find that the all-powerful “like” is affecting your teen in ways you may have never guessed.

“Likes,” Self Esteem and Addiction

Many studies in recent years, including this one by The University of Gothenburg in Sweden, have uncovered a negative relationship between social media usage and self-esteem.

While much of this negative relationship comes from comparison—Why can’t I ever go on vacation? Why don’t I have enough money to buy that? I wish I could look like her—much of it is also comes from the need to get more and more “likes” on every post. Many teens directly correlate getting “likes” to their self worth; not enough “likes” means they’re not good enough.

This is most commonly seen when posting selfies on Facebook and Instagram, the two most image-focused platforms that teens use. In 2014, The Department of Mental Health in Thailand released a warning about this via the Bangkok Post:

“If they feel they don’t get enough Likes for their selfie as expected, they decide to post another, but still do not receive a good response. This could affect their thoughts. They can lose self-confidence and have a negative attitude toward themselves, such as feeling dissatisfied with themselves or their body.”.

This incredible need for this social validation, getting enough likes to feel like you’re good enough, leads to the next important issue: teens’ addiction to “likes,” posting more and more often to get the “likes” they think they need to have.

The same Thailand warning continued, “This could affect the development of the country in the future as the number of new-generation leaders will fall short. It will hinder the country’s creativity and innovation.” Unfortunately, this isn’t just an issue in Thailand—it’s running rampant through the lives of teens around the world and in the United States.

A 2016 study by the UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center studied which parts of teens’ brains are affected when looking at photos with a lot and a little “likes;” the study was done using Instagram photos.

When the participants, 32 teenagers, ages 13-18, saw their own photos with a significant number of “likes,” activity splashed across a number of regions in the brain. The UCLA press release stated:

“A region that was especially active is a part of the striatum called the nucleus accumbens, which is part of the brain’s reward circuitry, she said. This reward circuitry is thought to be particularly sensitive during adolescence.” This leads us to the conclusion that teens are especially vulnerable to the addiction and self-esteem boosting power of “likes.”

Finally, the study found that the more “likes” a post had, the more likely the teens were to “like” it themselves, whether they knew the person who originally posted it or not. It’s this behavior that makes teens susceptible to the next danger: “Like” scams.

Facebook “Like” Scams

Whether your teen is or isn’t addicted to Facebook “likes” they’re still vulnerable to the many “like” scams that float around this popular social media outlet.

The idea is simple: A hacker posts something emotional that they know will elicit a strong response on Facebook—a funny cat video or a sad family story—and the post starts getting likes and shares. Thanks to Facebook’s algorithm, the more people engage with the post, the more it shows up in the newsfeed of their friends—eventually showing up in your teen’s newsfeed.

Here’s where the scam comes in. Once the post has generated enough engagement, the hacker edits the post, changing it to something that lures people to share personal information or buy into a scam. They may also be planning to sell the data of everyone who liked the post, making your teen even more vulnerable to future click bait and scams.

Teens may not realize that the post 25 of their friends liked is a scam post, and like it purely as a knee-jerk reaction, “Everyone is liking this, I should like it too.”

Luckily, a short list of ground rules for social media can help you reduce the chances that your teen falls for a “like” scam or becomes addicted to “likes.”

Social Media Safety: A Short List of Rules

There are a few ways to you can help keep your child safe online and minimize the affects of “likes” on their self-esteem. Before your little netizen logs on to their social media accounts again, go over this short list of social media safety tips.

  • Don’t “like” just anything. Ensure that your teen is only “liking” posts that their friends originally posted, rather than something a publication or company they’ve never heard of is posting. Luckily, with Facebook’s new update, created to put more emphasis on photos posted by friends in the newsfeed, rather than posts from business and publication pages, your teen may not be seeing much of these scam posts anyway. I just scanned my Facebook for some examples to share here and honestly couldn’t find one. Nonetheless, it’s a good rule of thumb.
  • Post minimally. Encourage your teen to post infrequently—perhaps only a certain number of times a week—and avoid posting selfies, which seem to elicit more of a correlation between “likes” and self-esteem than other types of photos.
  • Encourage family volunteer time or personal goals for your kids that relate to the rest of the world, not just themselves. Jennifer Crocker, psychology professor, suggests, “If people could adopt goals not focused on their own self-esteem but on something larger than their self, such as what they can create or contribute to others, they would be less susceptible to some of the negative effects of pursuing self-esteem.”

To be sure your child is following these basic safety rules, keep an eye on their activity with a social media monitoring tool like Net Nanny Social, allowing you to identify a wide range of threats, monitor your child’s posts, and get real-time alerts and weekly updates.