Ask a Teen: What’s More Important—Comments or Likes?

Ask A Teen

My 15-year-old cousin recently informed me that Instagram slideshows are all the rage and single image posts have virtually gone by the wayside. The fact that I have not observed the extent of this sea change in my own feed is all the evidence I need to assume I am officially “out of touch” with the teen perspective, an inevitable fate I can only hope to shoulder with some degree of grace and fortitude.

It sparked an internal question, though: What do teens think about Instagram’s significant recent proposal—doing away with “likes” entirely? Team MR weighed in on this overhaul, which is already being tested in Australia and Canada, a couple months ago, but I was curious to hear from Gen Z (arguably Instagram’s most prized user base) on the matter. So I polled my teenage following on the app in question, asking for their thoughts on likes, comments, and Instagram in general. Below is a consolidated rundown of what I thought were some of the most interesting takeaways from the 144 responses…to be continued in the comment section, whether you’re a teen or not.

A bunch of teens said comments are more important than likes:

“I get more excited when someone comments on my pictures. I feel like it’s a place of positivity and I like it when my friends say cute things. I also love a good moment when my old teacher comments something or my aunt comments about feminism, it just always makes me smile.” -Megan, 18

“I think comments carry more weight than likes. I know lots of people who just scroll mindlessly, liking whatever comes up on their feeds. But when I get a comment on my post I know that someone actually took the time to look at and appreciate what I’m posting.” -Analea, 18

I like comments a lot more than likes. To me, likes are just stressful and after a certain point they stopped meaning anything, but if somebody comments, you know what they think. I live in Australia, so we already have no Instagram likes and most people really like it because there’s no pressure.” -Noemi, 16

“I find comments more valuable than likes on Instagram. For some reason, if a post I make doesn’t get as many comments as usual, I get nervous about it, like people have already seen enough similar content, or don’t find it worth talking about…My friends and I will sometimes text each other, ‘Guys just posted pls comment.’ Then, it’s an instant string of 4-5 ‘so cute!’s.”  -Kyra, 19

“I feel like there is usually thought or intention behind a comment, making it a more personal exchange. I don’t think twice about liking a photo but will sit with my thumbs hovering over the keyboard for 10 minutes thinking through the perfect comment.” -Emily, 17

“I think that a nice comment is ‘worth’ much more compared to a bunch of likes. I’m sad that there is such a big focus on getting as many likes as possible, because you are not the photo. It is much more important what people think of you in real life.” -Nikoline, 17

“Likes mean a person saw what I posted, comments mean a person cared about what I posted (and therefore cares about me). I like everything I see, but only comment on what close friends post. I don’t find likes very important or necessary at all.” -Linnea, 18

“I don’t care about likes at all. Comments have always made my heart flutter, especially if they’re from people I care about and ESPECIALLY if they’re actually saying something meaningful.” -Fredrika, 19

Some disagreed:

“I feel like comments are so irrelevant. I have friends that care a lot but I prefer likes.” -Cat, 19

“I never read the comments on others’ posts but always look at the likes and also how long ago the picture was posted, so I can see the average amount of likes they get per minute or hour. What’s the point of Instagram if likes go away?” -Camille, 19

The comments are fun to read through but the more likes you get, the more–for a lack of a better word–‘clout’ you get.” -Merritt, 14

“The whole idea of Instagram has always seemed to be about likes, and I know that the likes have always been a fixation for me, my friends, and other teens (whether people admit it or not)…One of my friends will judge how much people like her based on if they like her Instagram posts or not. She made a big deal over a few girls liking her posts who she thought didn’t like her (and decided that they must not be mad at her since they liked her post) and constantly talks about if her long-term crush likes her posts.” -Erin, 18

A handful of teens equated comments to popularity and/or social capital:

“I don’t know if it’s just me, but I become a little disappointed/confused when one of my friends doesn’t comment on a post I really like. Comments are a popularity contest to see who has the most friends.” -Caroline, 16

“Comments show your popularity, the more you have , the more people you know. Although I know many people who get worried about their likes, I find the stress from the amount of comments my post gets much more prevailing as it is a representation of how many friends I have.” -Selina, 14

“I think the amount of comments someone has on their post is valued to a higher degree as a kind of social currency among my peers, if that makes sense?” -Phoebe, 16

“Although many comments are superficial and a form of social capital, they make me feel more validated than likes. Likes have become basically irrelevant to me. I notice that I get far more likes on a photo of people than that of a landscape. This doesn’t bother me because I like the pictures I post and don’t really care if it’s the type of content that others want to see. However, if I got no comments I would probably delete the photo. For some reason I just find comments much more validating.” -Grace, 19

“I often (inaccurately) associate more comments with someone having more friends, which is why it can be a bummer to post someone with mere crickets in the comments section. That said, I’m trying to focus less on using social media to validate my relationships.” -Alexia, 19

Many said they would love it if likes went away entirely:

“I would fucking love if likes went away, I get such major anxiety from posting at the right time and getting enough likes to be acceptable that I have to delete the app off my phone every time I post so I don’t check it every two seconds to see if I’m ‘on track’ in my likes/time ratio.” -Caroline, 18

“If likes went away, I would be relieved, because there wouldn’t be as much pressure to post an ‘Instagram perfect’ picture.” -Zora, 16

“I think Instagram would be better without likes. Posting should be like it was when I was 13 and Instagram was new. It should be about sharing things you like, fun pictures with your friends, posting pictures that mean something to you or make you feel good. I miss the fun simplicity of posting whatever I want whenever I want. It shouldn’t be about posting at just the right time and posting the right edit to maximize your likes.” -Aleksandra, 19

“Personally I’d love for likes to go away because I think it would force me to not seek validation from others and also make Instagram more artistic again which is the main point really (that, and staying in touch with friends, of course).” -Elena, 16

“If likes went away O would be so happy. People care way too much about the amount of likes and they don’t make people feel good, they just make them feel bad.” -Maddie, 14

“Likes for some reason have already went away on my app and I LOVE it. Even though I’ve been trying to not care about likes for a few years now, just not having that number there makes me SO much more attentive to and appreciative of my friends’ comments on my posts. Instagram isn’t going to stop being social currency anytime soon, but I think taking away likes is one less superficial way for teenagers to define their already unstable sense of self.” -Mariana, 18

Only one person wanted comments to go away instead:

“I think that comments should go. They’re mostly irrelevant and are a breeding ground for hate…Likes are more ‘important’ than comments. No one checks the number of comments, but they do check the number of likes.” -Abbie, 19

Quite a few respondents mentioned the impact of Instagram on their mental health:

“The news that likes might be going away made me realize how bad they were for my mental health. I became aware of how time consuming and harmful Instagram was and how I let that happen with the excuse that I was a teen in the 21st century. I couldn’t enjoy my family hikes if I didn’t got the perfect shot–it was like a backpack of constant worry. I first got my Instagram when I was 13 (crazy), and the summer before senior year I decided to delete it. My mental health improved enormously.” -Teresa, 19

“I know so many young people, women especially, who will delete a picture if it doesn’t get enough likes because they think that says something negative about their self-worth.” -Abbey, 17

“Instagram was founded as I began middle school, and I have vivid memories of over-saturated bar mitzvah selfies taken before iPhones with front facing cameras were even introduced. I also remember texting my close friends to remind them to like a picture, and logging onto my mother’s Instagram just to make sure I got that one additional like. I even liked my own pictures, just to bump up the count. It kind of blows my mind to think back on this, the way I matter of factly did all these things, without questioning the rational. Likes were a modern and clear way to demonstrate the social hierarchy already in place.” -Blythe, 19

“When I was just starting high school, likes and comments were something I feel that I obsessed over. I remember seeing a girl in my class that would get dozens of comments and I was sad I wouldn’t get that many. Now though I’ve gotten over the status that likes and comments seem to give and I post what I want and I don’t care who and who doesn’t like it.” -Emily, 17

Graphics by Dasha Faires.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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