The psychology of likes, comments, and shares

My use of social media goes back nearly 15 years. First, it was LinkedIn, then Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram. Since then a few have joined the list and been lost to the fashion and times, including Instagram. Twice.

However, my use of social media channels is vastly less than it was a year ago, and possibly the lowest it’s been since those early days when it all seemed amazing, connected, and caring/sharing.

I’m fascinated by why we share details of our lives, compare ourselves to others in comments, and feel the need to seek confirmation by hunting likes and other sentiments. There are many upsides to this, not least (for me) has been the amazing group of people who have joined me on my journey through the network I’ve built, the photos I’ve shared, the blog posts I’ve written, and the updates I’ve published.

However, the nature of social media has changed. It’s harder to find the non-political, non-aggressive, non-argumentative, or non-confrontational engagement that I’ve enjoyed in the past. This isn’t to say any of this is directed at me, it isn’t, but there are more and more of you in my networks that are yourselves being targetted like this for your beliefs, your choices, your opinions, etc. that means I just don’t want to see it.

The ‘need’ for confirmation and affirmation through the number of likes or connections/followers someone has is somehow more important than the quality of that engagement. I am quite proud that my Facebook friends are under 20, but my LinkedIn connections grow … I’m not sure what I’m doing with Twitter anymore.

We are more connected, more informed, and more susceptible to misinformation as agents for any and all purposes seek to distract us from our focus.

What I do know is that I am calmer the more time I spend away from social media. I am more able to focus and maintain that focus and motivation when I’m not checking the different platforms or notifications (I have notifications turned off on my devices, so I’ll only know what’s going on when I check).

People tend towards presenting a socially desirable, positive self-view to others when online. In turn, this gives individuals an increase in self-esteem, but a decrease in self-control. It all ties in with the idea of keeping up appearances, and painting a picture to the audience that compose of our friends lists and beyond. Individuals can choose information that they post, and keeping up a certain online identity increases self-esteem, but can mask our true personas. For the narcissist, this feeds into the need to be admired and the more reception a post receives, the more is fed into this type of behavior. For the anxious, online interactions can translate into real-life interaction, and feed into the anxious feeling of whether people like them or not, corresponding with what kind of reception online posts receive.

At the very base, one should not turn to social media to boost self-esteem since it signifies a reliance on externalities to achieve a sense of heightened feelings of worth, rather than looking inwardly. The very definition of self-esteem is the ‘cognitive and, above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth’, and when we misplace appraisal on fleeting social media, likes and comments, we both become part of a negative cycle and mistake short-term satisfaction with necessary long-term and meaningful work we must do on ourselves to improve self-esteem.

‘The Psychology of Social Media — Why We Feel the Need to Share’ byVictoria Halina (2019)

As the idea of the internet as an aggressive playground dominates public discourse, the insinuation that we must be ‘resilient’ to online abuse is disturbingly common. In the past, at times of cultural unease, ground-breaking psychological research had profound and vital societal impact. Is such a time upon us again?

‘Why do we ‘like’ social media?’ by Ciarán Mc Mahon (2015)

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash