To like or not to like? Do you care?

Throughout the course my reading has been wide and varied.  I have attended several workshops on technology and I have made a lot of connections in my own school communities.  When we looked at digital citizenship and its impact in our schools I continued to read and talk about it with my colleagues here in Japan.  Then whilst attending a conference in Yokohama, I had the opportunity to hear students present their views on social media and its importance in their lives.  After the presentation I spoke to these students about their experiences – it was extremely enlightening.  It gave me a completely new lens to look at social media through and how it can impact our children’s lives.

This experience got me thinking about the value of a ‘like’.  That little thumbs up, the one I press when I can’t be bothered to leave a message, the little heart I click on to let a friend know that I thought their picture was cool, the button I never use on You Tube.  To me these are all insignificant frills added to social media.  But is that how our students see them? Apparently not.  Based on the conversations I had with the students I started to investigate what we know about the value of a like, from a research perspective as well as from a teacher or parents point of view.

Navigating the online world for our students really means social media, its about investing in communities, becoming an active member in these communities and of course creating their own communities.  I wonder how we are preparing our students for these online communities? I wonder if we are really preparing them to be resilient in a world of, that may be perceived  as, online rejection?  But what does online rejection really mean?

We can not underestimate the power of the online audiences, those community members who our students, and let’s face it all of us, want approval from.  Why would Facebook tell you which of your post or pictures have had the most likes or the most comment? It tells us because we really care.  It’s that digital drug… It’s the Dopamine that is released by reward cues and that cuddle chemical Oxytocin.  Both are chemicals realised by the brain when using social media.  A 2016 article by Courtney Seiter suggests that,

…between dopamine and oxytocin, social networking not only comes with a lot of great feelings, it’s also really hard to stop wanting more of it.

Perhaps my favourite stat:

In 10 minutes of social media time, oxytocin levels can rise as much as 13%—a hormonal spike equivalent to some people on their wedding day.

What are we setting our kids up for? Disappointment? No – social media brings that.  It brings approval or rejection through the number of like or friends you have. How many friends do you actually need to be accepted? I must say I never thought about it! Luckily, there is a formula for that. The journal ‘Computers in Human Behaviour’ identify that a study by Tong, Van Der Heide, Langwell, and Walther (2008) investigated subjects social attractiveness and that,

“the optimum number of friends in relation to social attractiveness was approximately 302 and subsequently concluded that one’s number of Facebook friends indicates social status and physical attractiveness.” Cited in Bevan, 2012

302?!? Are you all thinking about the number of friends you have on facebook or followers on instagram right now? I actually checked!  Just think about that – I’m not sure I even knew 302 people when I was a kid.  I don’t really ‘know’ 302 people now, so what purpose does that number have?

So that brought me to thinking about how we handle a reduction in these numbers? I mean we are happy when we are gathering followers but what happens when they start to leave?

Un·friendVerb, informal

  1. remove (someone) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website.

Its the ultimate rejection in the 21st century, and it can be done so very easily without thought for anyones feelings.  Psychology Today published an article in 2012 on how to hand this online rejection.  Here are the top 5 tips:

  • Don’t ruminate over the unfriending
  • Expand your real life social network
  • Look critically at your own Facebook behavior.
  • Try to figure out what caused the rift and then try to repair it
  • Don’t stalk those who unfriended you

Initially, this is a topic that I could easily dismiss but after giving it some deeper thought and taking the study into consideration I can really see how this is impacting young lives.  Clear a topic to talk to our students about, especially the stalking.  I know I’ve done it – ‘oh x isn’t my friend anymore, I wonder if they are still friends with x?’.

I’m back to considering the value of a like.  Chatting with students it is clear that it is so powerful.  One student talked about his YouTube channel.  He had clearly given the interaction his audience has with him some thought.  He really liked comments, he found them helpful and was happy that people felt so passionate about his video or channel that they wanted to share that in words with him.  He also pointed out that he even welcomed critical feedback in the comments.  He said, “I don’t really bother about likes ’cause people just like stuff so you like theirs back, but dislike kinda upset me.’  I was surprised to find out that YouTube is one of the only platforms to have a dislike button – perhaps that is a good thing. This young man’s experience highlights the reciprocity of social media, a like for a like.

Rameet Chawla wondered what would happen in his online life if just liked everything.  He wrote a program called ‘Lovematically‘.  It started automatically liking instagram pictures and here are his results:

  • He grew his followers by about 30 a day
  • He got invited to more parties
  • He got stopped on the street by people who recognised him from Instagram
  • He got message after message from friends encouraging him to post more. He said it was “almost like they were frustrated, like they were longing for something to like in return.”

Another student I talked to was a keen photographer and posted regularly on instagram.  Likes on he pictures let her know that her audience loved her work and she was doing a great job.  But she expressed how down it made her fell if she took a long time to set up a shot and it only got a couple of like versus a quick snap that got lots of likes.  She didn’t understand it.  I asked if she read the comments, that maybe they would help. She replied ‘I don’t really care about the comments, its just normally my friends anyway.  I just want to know that people like my stuff – especially the photographers I follow.’  I wondered about the levels of anxiety she must feel about her photography.  It’s amazing the audiences that our students are reaching far and wide. It really opened up my eyes.

This clip from Jumanji may exemplify that students anxiety wondering why people don’t like her work.

YouTube Preview Image

This use of social media and the need for online approval is reflected now in art, TV and films:

Asaf Hanuka –

The likes, comments and posts we share on social media can often seem inconsequential, but they matter. They tap into some of the very elements that make us human, our addictions, desires, anxieties and joys.

“44% of Facebook users “like” content posted by their friends at least once a day, and 29% do so several times per day” (Brown, 2014). We do this because we want to maintain relationships. When we favourite and like each other’s posts, we add value to the relationship, and reinforce that  closeness. We also create a reciprocity effect. We feel obliged to give back to people  who have given to us, even in a small way. We want to even up the scales.

You see reciprocity in Snapchat, where receiving a snap makes you feel compelled to send one back. And anytime you receive a like, you’ll probably feel a little pull to reciprocate in some way, whether it’s by sharing something in return, signing up for an email list, etc.

This is not to say that comments aren’t powerful. In fact, they can be incredibly so—there’s a phenomenon known as shared reality that says our whole experience of something is affected by, if and how we share it with others.

The one thing that is clear whilst thinking about the value of a like is that we need to be having conversations about how social media is impacting our students psychological well being.  We need to ensure that they are fostering and building real social networks and that they are making valuable contributions to their online communities.

We need to understand that we have addressed work/life balance – we know what that means.  We now need to examine our tech/body balance (Lieberman, 2017).  We know that people carry their devices around like epi-pens and that device separation anxiety is a real thing.  In fact, a 2015 study by Verizon reported that 90%of people take their phone to the toilet – do you?

We need to make sure that there is some device free time and that parents and teachers are talking about who your students follow, how many followers they have, likes, dislike, comments….

What some more stats on social media? I got lost in them.  The following article, updated on the 18th April 2018, details 40 interesting statistics: 40 Essential Social Media Marketing Statistics for 2018

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