How social media approval can have more than one meaning

Posting a picture on social media is a leap of faith. From the moment you upload, you have entered into the “like” system. Your caption sounded funny in the pub but you worry as you reread it now that it’s there for all to see, reflecting your social standing. 

It began with Facebook’s like button, introduced in 2009, which made everyone feel they had a stake in the site because they could engage with it — they weren’t passively scrolling but had the power to raise the profiles of others by liking them and making them appear higher up on the feeds of others. But some types of approval are worth more than others.

Here is a lexicon of likes. 

The loyalty like

Sure, this person always likes your pictures — what of it? It means they are faithful. You try not to dwell on how they also like everyone else’s pictures, even boring ones that only parents comment on. If you don’t get a like from your old faithful you start to worry. Did they overhear you being catty about them or are they unwell? Maybe it’s just that you didn’t like their photos back enough.

The accidental like

Disaster. You were deep Googling someone because of your natural curiosity and also because they are now doing your old job or going out with your ex, when your finger slipped and you inadvertently liked their picture while trying to zoom in on their legs. Hot shame turns your cheeks red every time you remember it. When you meet them in real life you can’t bring yourself to make eye contact and are terrified of letting slip that you keenly followed everything they posted last weekend.

The vicarious living like

This one enjoys living. They approve of action shots featuring new experiences or celebrities but it isn’t really about that. It’s because they are on the sofa not doing anything other than half-watching Netflix and wanting to feel engaged with the outside world.

The tactical like

Still using Instagram as a hobby? Well, it’s up to you if you want to stay in a dead-end job in a dead-end part of town. Instagram is for social climbing. With a few likes in the right places you could get that promotion you deserve. No one is too important to be flattered by lol (lots of likes), and establishing yourself as an engaged consumer of Instagram shows potential bosses that you are on top of the zeitgeist and won’t miss a beat.

The duty like

This person was lost to you — they cancelled on drinks so many times that you stopped inviting them out. But then they started liking your photos. It eases their conscience and makes them feel they are still close to you even though they never text back.

The ‘why aren’t you following me?’ like

You’ve met a few times at parties and this shamelessly eager creature thinks that means you are forever bound in a social media partnership. They are not too cool to go for the first follow and when you don’t reciprocate they remind you by liking your activity. If you cave and give them a follow it will be noted and monitored — they subscribe to the site Who Unfollowed Me (dot me me me) and discuss these insecurities with their therapist.

The acceptance like

A diplomatic move to show you are dealing well with something sensitive. Examples include clicking on the love heart underneath a picture of two friends that you introduced hanging out without you. The ultimate is liking your ex’s photo of them having a hoot with their fiancée.

The premeditated like

No one wants to look too keen. There are some pictures which are dead certs for a like but it takes a bold pioneer to be the first. Some Instagrammers have been known to clock a picture and make a mental note to like later, so they aren’t the first. Others are put off by too many likes. If something has reached triple figures, what’s the point of another person chiming in? Unless you feel particularly invested in celebrities and live for the day Zayn Malik will notice that you have loyally liked all of his pictures and reciprocate with a dinner invite.

The lazy birthday like

People are busy these days — what with keeping up with social media — so it’s just easier to show your affection with one click. No one writes a birthday card when you can just like an Instagram post. The same goes for work-based messages: you don’t need to congratulate a colleague on their new project with flowers — like it instead, thereby boosting their social cachet and showing you know what they’re up to.

The high-value like

Gold. This person is the equivalent of the aloof girl in the year above at school who didn’t need friends because everyone wanted to hang out with her. They follow you but they don’t really do likes. Except when they do, once, and you spend too long wondering what it was about that picture that won them over and how to score more.

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