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Al Salem ’17: Your Facebook likes don’t make you cool

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, September 15, 2016

If you’ve ever felt bad about yourself for getting fewer than 50 likes on a photo, please raise your hand. Great, now look around you. The person on your left and the person on your right are the reasons you feel like your social media presence defines your worth. We are both the cause and result of this phenomenon, and even though it should be obvious enough, I will say it for the people in the back: The number of likes you get on Facebook or Instagram does not determine your worth.

I realized that people still believe likes are a reflection of character when a coworker of mine sighed dramatically over someone on her newsfeed. I asked what impressed her, thinking she was going to talk about the person as she would a crush, only to find out that the person was “so cool” because they got at least 500 likes on most of their photos. She truly yearned to be better friends with this person based solely on their number of likes.

Most people already know that their status online does not necessarily translate to the real world. However, we all still fall prey to self-doubt when we post a new photo and it doesn’t get the reaction we were anticipating. So we are aware that Facebook likes don’t really mean anything, but we still treat them as the highest acclamations.

But let’s break this down. First of all, the majority of people who get 500 likes are the same people who friend every Tom, Dick and Harry they meet. Sometimes they don’t even have to meet you — if they see any shared connection, be it school, work or friends, they will add you. These people then have at least 1,500 friends on their Facebook accounts alone. Statistically, if they were to get anything fewer than 500 likes, they could actually be much less popular than the average Joe. But it’s more concerning to me that we take the claim that anyone has 2,000 friends seriously.

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, famously conducted a study that proved our human brains are only capable of a social circle of 150 people. Further, of those 150, we can only really have a meaningful relationship with five of them. Science aside, this seems like a legitimate claim if we think about the relationships we currently have. The majority of us don’t have 150 people we can confidently vouch for at a dinner party, yet we somehow believe that one person can have upwards of a thousand intimate friends.

Though most people know their 500-like friends are not really so popular, we may still value them more because of their social-media presence. If we buy into this notion of popularity, we feed into their inflated sense of coolness. By treating these people like A-listers, we create a culture of celebrity treatment surrounding 2,000 friends and 500 likes. So the next time you feel bad because you only get 40 likes on a photo, remember you are buying into and reinforcing a culture of self-pity linked to socially constructed approval ratings.

Yes, I understand that not everyone treats Facebook as a true representation of friendships and personalities. While I personally delete people with whom I’m no longer in touch, I know that Facebook is used like the Us Weekly or People magazine of the non-celebrity world. I get that, and I’m not shaming anyone for using the platform to both spy on and create false personae.

But I am against blurring the line between the distorted reality of carefully selected portrayals that is Facebook and the real world. I am against treating ourselves as inferior because our photos do not get the same number of likes as This Person or That Person. I will completely shut you down for idolizing a complete nobody because they know how to choose pretty filters and click ‘Add Friend’ for anyone who walks past them. Your 40 likes from people who actually know you should mean more to you than 500 likes from people who don’t even know how they know you.

Sara Al-Salem ’17 is actually secretly salty that you didn’t like her photo and can be reached at sara_al-salem@brown.edu.

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