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“She liked the picture so i think she liked it”. Unpacking the social practice of liking

« Elle a liké la photo, alors je pense qu’elle l’a aimée ». Démêler la pratique sociale du liking
Beata Jungselius
p. 23-38


Dans cet article, la pratique sociale consistant à aimer sur Instagram est décomposée. D’après des entretiens approfondis avec 16 utilisateurs d’Instagram, les résultats suggèrent que le processus de définition du sens de la compréhension de J’aime est complexe. Les résultats montrent que pour comprendre les «  J’aime  », les utilisateurs trouvent des points de référence sociaux pour interpréter les «  J’aime  » qu’ils reçoivent et ne reçoivent pas. En se basant sur ces résultats, les moyens de comprendre la complexité de cette action apparemment simple en tant qu’expression de soutien social sont discutés.

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1On November 3rd 2015, Twitter users opening up the app were greeted by the news that the star icon, previously used to mark a tweet as a favourite, had been replaced by a heart icon. According to Twitter representatives, this was done in an attempt to make Twitter “easier and more rewarding to use” claiming that “the heart is more expressive” and “easily connect with people” (Kumar, 2015). While most Twitter users adapted to the icon replacement without resistance, others were less happy with the changes. Some were worried, and highlighted that up until this point, the star icon used for favouriting a tweet was one of the key features setting Twitter apart from Instagram and Facebook. Also, some suggested that the replacement of symbols were going to raise issues as the favourite button had been used to bookmark interesting tweets, not necessarily “liking’ the actual content, but rather just wanting to save the tweet to read or return to later on. It was stated that “favoriting something on Twitter is not the same thing as liking it” (Whitten, 2015). A function similar to the favourite button on Twitter is the Like button on Facebook, which quickly became an important part of the social media landscape. The Like button was initially introduced as an alternative to the comment function, allowing Facebook users to express their fondness of other users’ posts “with a simple click” (Pearlman, 2009). Over time, however, the Like button has evolved. In a blog post, Product Design Director at Facebook, Geoff Teehan, explained the reasons behind the development of the extension of the Like button into ‘Reactions’ (Teehan, 2016). According to Teehan, the idea with extending the Like button was to “allow people to give feedback in more expressive ways that better align with the varied ways we react to things in real life” as “not everything in life is Likable” (Teehan, 2016).

2These so-called “social buttons” are sometimes referred to as social bookmarking icons that allow users to “share, recommend, like or bookmark content, posts and pages across various social media platforms” (Gerlitz & Helmond, 2013, p. 1351). Although driven by a desire to make Twitter and Facebook easier and more rewarding to use, feedback from users show that the way social buttons such as Likes and favourites are used in practice may differ from how developers of social media may have originally intended. The value users ascribe to these seemingly simple expressions are not always easy to interpret. In addition to the meaning intended by developers, users add their own meaning to social buttons, developing them into important interactional tools. As social media users interact, they develop a great sensitivity for the different meanings and interpretations of available expressions as well as for the norms that regulate the social practices surrounding them, whether it is regarding the difference between favouriting or liking a tweet, knowing which Reaction to show on Facebook or when to like a friend’s Instagram selfie. In this paper, the specific social practice of liking on Instagram is being exploded and the difference between liking a photograph and ‘liking’ on Instagram is unpacked. By examining Instagram users’ own descriptions of their liking practices, the focus is to examine how they use Likes to interact.

Conceptualizing the social practice of liking

3The possibility to “like” a status update, comment, photo, or organisation is central when using social media. On the social photo sharing platform Instagram alone, users perform over 4.2 billion Likes per day (Aslam, 2017). When launched on Facebook in 2009, the Like button was introduced as a way for users to “be able to say that they ‘Like’ something” (Kincaid, 2009). The findings of this study however, show that Likes are not always, and only, used as a way to express fondness. Although beginning to acknowledge liking as an increasingly popular social function (Jin, Wang, Luo, Yu & Han, 2011), early work within the HCI field referred to Likes as ‘non-text feedback’ (Burke, Marlow & Lento, 2010) and ‘lightweight interaction’ (Backstrom, Kleinberg, Lee, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil & Max, 2013; Burke, Kraut & Marlow, 2011). Jang and colleagues refer to Likes, Favorites (on Twitter) and Re-pinning (on Pinterest) as ‘micro expressions’ (Jang, Han, Shih & Lee, 2015) and Meixner and Marlow describe Likes as ‘endorsement of content’ (Meixner & Marlow, 2017). And technically, the act of clicking a Like button might be considered as lightweight, low-cost or as micro endorsement of content, but socially, this non-text feedback to social media content encompasses a range of complex social practices. Recent studies have shown that Likes may have various meanings and can contain a hefty amount of information (Hayes, Carr & Wohn, 2016). For instance, the receiving of Likes has been suggested to serve as emotional gratification. Simply put, users’ report feeling happy when receiving Likes and sad when they do not (Wohn, Carr & Hayes, 2016). Focusing on Facebook, Gerlitz and Helmond (2013) explored the technical infrastructure of Likes and similar social buttons as part of a so-called ‘Like economy.’ Referring to Thrift (2008), they mention that ‘a Like is always more than a number on the Like counter.’ More specifically seeking to understand the social value of Likes on Facebook, Scissors et al. found that users tend to care more about who likes their post rather than the number of Likes they receive (Scissors, Burke &Wengrovitz, 2016).

4In recent years, a number of studies within the HCI community have been conducted to explore platform-specific communication practises. Seeking to understand one of these on Twitter, retweeting, Paßmann and colleagues conclude that a) a lot of effort is put in to this practice and b) that users make a number of pragmatic choices when retweeting and favoriting tweets (Johannes Paßmann, Thomas Boeschoten, and Mirko Tobias Schäfer ed. Jones, 2014). Studying Instagram, and what sort of content that drives engagement within this platform, Bakshi and colleagues (2014) conclude that photos with faces attract more Likes than photos without (Bakhshi, Shamma & Gilbert, 2014). In terms of the relationship between users and their followers, it has been shown that users often relate to a perceived audience when producing and sharing content online (Marwick & Boyd, 2010; Miller & Edwards, 2007; Weilenmann, Hillman & Jungselius, 2013). When learning how to use social media, users develop an understanding of the social norms that the interaction with their followers rely upon and act accordingly. Sometimes, however, multiple, and even paradoxical norms may be involved when interacting in social media. For instance, one recent study showed that when using Facebook, users negotiate between a need for emotional support and a will to avoid violating social norms on Facebook. Or as put; “Users must balance competing needs for emotional comfort with needs to behave appropriately within the Facebook context” (Buehler, 2017, p. 9). Related to seeking emotional support, there has been recent work conducted where Likes have been studied as possible expressions of social support (Ahmadi, Schneider, Kadam & Wohn, 2016; Buehler, 2017; Hayes et al., 2016; Wohn et al., 2016). Social support is defined as “information leading the subject to believe that he is cared for and loved esteemed, and a member of a network of mutual obligations” (Cobb, 1976, p. 300). Emphasising the supportive role Likes may play, Hayes et al. state that “a Like may not refer to the provider literally liking the posted content; but rather may be sent (or interpreted by a receiver) as a form of emotional support” (Hayes et al., 2016, p. 392). Also, as mentioned by Wohn et al., users perceive Likes as socially supportive even without implicit meaning associated with them (Wohn et al., 2016).

5In relation to photography, Richard Chalfen (1987) suggests that there are social skills that users of a technology develop to be able to use a technology in a fulfilling way. As shown in his 1987 study of amateur photography, technologies in themselves has different features that shape usage in a technical way, while a culturally structured set of norms and social codes regulate what can be done in a social sense (Chalfen, 1987, p. 44). Examining Instagram practises specifically, Gibbs et al. (2015) introduce the concept of “platform vernacular” arguing that “each social media platform comes to have its own unique combination of styles, grammars, and logics, which can be considered as constituting a ‘platform vernacular,’ or a popular (as in “of the people”) genre of communication” (Gibbs, Meese, Arnold & Nansen, 2015, p. 3). In a way similar to Chalfen, Gibbs et al. explain how platform vernaculars are shaped not only by the platform architecture but also by the habits and practices of users. These platform vernaculars are “shared (but not static) conventions and grammars of communication, which emerge from the ongoing interactions between platforms and users” (Gibbs et al., 2015, p. 3). Every platform has a specific vernacular which has “developed over time, through design, appropriation, and use” (Gibbs et al., 2015, p. 3). Although platform vernaculars are particular to each social media platforms, it is acknowledged that “they can share many elements, and the vocabulary and grammars of vernaculars migrate between social media platforms as new practices and features from one platform are appropriated for use on others” (Gibbs et al., 2015, p. 3). A practice or function found on one social media platform may be specific to its’ vernacular, but may also be found on another platform. In this paper, the social practice of liking is argued as being an important and central part of the specific platform vernacular of Instagram. Following previous work, the aim of this paper is to contribute to the growing body of work examining Likes as expressions of social support by examining not only descriptions of interpretations of Likes received, but also descriptions of how users deal with interpreting Likes they do not receive.

Studying liking practices on Instagram

6Instagram, which was first introduced in October 2010, has 400 million daily users around the world who use the application to share over 95 million pictures every day (Aslam, 2017). When using Instagram, users are provided with pictures and videos accompanied with a caption, created by other users, usually consisting of other instagrammers who they have decided to follow. By “instagram,” I refer to the multilayered presentation of both image (or video) and caption. However, in common discourse users often talk about instagrams solely as pictures while implicitly referring to the multilayered presentation of both image and text. When the data collection for this study was made, instagrammers had two options if wanting to interact with an instagram. The first option was to comment on the instagram by writing a comment below it. The second option was to like it, either by pressing the heart labelled Like button below the photo or by double-tapping the instagram as it appears on the screen. When double-tapping an instagram, a heart-shaped icon appears for a few seconds at the centre of the image, confirming that it has been liked. The user who has produced the instagram also receives a notification that it has been liked. Since the time of this data collection, Instagram has evolved and users are now, in addition to liking and commenting, able to share the Instagram by sending and adding a comment on it privately through DM to a specific user. Also, both the Instagram Stories feature as well as the possibility to share video and multiple pieces of content per post has been added.

7An interest in people’s stories is often the reason motivating in-depth interviews as a research method. The purpose is rarely to get answers to questions, to test hypotheses or to evaluate. Instead, “At the root of in-depth interviewing is an interest in understanding the lived experience of other people and the meaning they make of that experience” (Seidman, 2006, p. 9). Also, interviews are often a motivated research method when wanting to “gain further understanding of the motivations and strategies underlying interactions and practices” (Dempsey, 2010). Choosing to conduct in-depth, semi-structured interviews for this study came out of an interest in gaining insights on social media users’ reasoning through descriptions of their own social media use. In order to gain understanding of the social practice of liking on Instagram, interviews were conducted with participants who were encouraged to “offer their own definitions of particular activities” (Silverman, 2006, p. 15) when asked to describe how they use Instagram and how they interact with others on this and other social media platforms. The interviews followed an interview guide covering questions regarding the participants museum visits (such as frequency, preferences, etc.), photography practises (smartphone camera use versus use of traditional cameras) and social media use (frequency, time spent, networks, applications, etc.). At the end of each interview, approximately for 20 out of 60 minutes, the participants were shown the instagrams they had just produced, during their foregoing museum visit. This was done as a way to get access to reasoning on how they went about producing their instagrams and to link their descriptions of social media practises to actual content. This way of showing the participants their own instagrams as a way to stimulate discussion during interviews was inspired by the stimulated recall technique (Dempsey, 2010).

8Sixteen frequent social media users were recruited through Twitter and invited to visit a natural history museum to document and share their visit and to participate in in-depth interviews directly after their visit. Eleven of the sixteen participants were women and five were men. The youngest participant was 19 at the time, and the oldest was 38 years old. Three of the participants were students, and thirteen worked within a variety of industries. One woman described using Instagram as often as thirty times per day, while another mentioned only using the application about once a week. The most common answer was that the application was used a couple of times per day. How long they had been using Instagram ranged between three months and two years. All of the participants visited a museum for approximately one hour. When meeting them at the museum before their visit, they were given a brief introduction to the research project. The instructions they were given for their visit were minimum. This was done to avoid steering their social media activity during the visit. The participants were also informed that they were not required to take any photographs at all if they did not want to. This was said to help them feel comfortable and to minimise the pressure of producing the “right” content for the study. Immediately after their visit, each participant took part in an approximately one-hour in-depth semi-structured interview.

9Social media experiences are often expansive and complex. The museum was used as a site to provide boundaries for the scope of the social media activity in the study. Inviting all of the participants to the same physical venue was a way to provide a frame of focus. This paper is based on a study that was conducted as part of a larger project where peoples’ use of mobile phones and social media was examined. In a previously published paper, parts of this data were used to examine how museum visitors use social media and mobile phones to include online audiences in their visit to a physical museum. In this paper, however, the focus is to bring understanding to the social practice of liking by reporting users’ descriptions of how they interpret Likes they do and do not receive.

10The interviews resulted in fourteen hours of video (four of the participants were interviewed in pairs) which were fully transcribed and analysed using Computer Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS) package, Transana. Second, thematic analysis was used to identify and analyse themes within the data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). When transcribing the interviews, the data was coded for examples of how the participants talked about and described their own as well as other users’ liking practices, and margin notes were made when the participants mentioned Likes. Inspired by Seidman (2006) and Braun & Clarke (2006) each transcript was summarised, quotes related to Likes were highlighted and the excerpts were organised into tentative categories. Although the interviews were structured by the interview guide, a majority of the participants introduced the subject of Likes themselves without being asked specifically about it. As the transcripts were examined multiple times, it was found that the participants discussed Likes even in relation to questions that did not directly address that practice. During this stage of the analysis process, themes started to emerge from the participants’ descriptions and it became clear that Likes were a recurring and central concern. In the following sections, the findings from this analysis will be presented using illustrative excerpts to represent different themes. User names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of participants.


11The findings of this study are presented in three parts. The first part concerns how users deal with multiple possible meanings when interpreting Likes they receive. The second part addresses how users create social reference points to determine the meaning of Likes. Not only do users interpret Likes they receive, but also, they sometimes engage in interpreting Likes that they do not receive. The last part of the findings section is dedicated to how users handle these absent Likes.

Dealing with multiple meanings when interpreting likes

12Likes are often interpreted as genuine endorsement of content, i.e. as followers “liking” (as in “appreciating”) the content that they have pressed Like on. However, the participants in this study provided numerous descriptions of a variety of additional possible meanings and how this sometimes made the interpretation of their actual meaning complicated.

Because you know that you do that yourself, you like pictures that are really great and you like pictures that are good and you like those that are okay […] and then you don’t really know what a Like mean - @mia

If I were to get a hundred Likes on a picture I would like not know if they like it because it is a good photo or if they only like it because ah well yeah it is posted by her - @elsa

13Some users described that when unsure of the intended meaning of a Like, they search for, and sometimes construct, possible motives behind liking in order to be able to interpret it:

Uhm that one I thought looked funny, that little rat had an uhm expression so I wrote that and Fredric thought that was funny […] or well he liked the picture anyway - @bella

One of my friends has liked it […] it is someone I know a bit, shallowly, so I don’t know if it’s because she also maybe has a phobia of snakes or if she thinks that it was well done of me to walk through like this […] it can mean sort of anything” - @sam

…she liked the picture, so I think she liked it - @hannah

14In connection to interpreting received Likes, participants also described intended meaning of Likes they performed themselves. In a similar way, one participant explained that sometimes Likes she performs herself might mean something else than her “liking” the picture. She described how she had liked an instagram of a passport posted by a friend:

Uhm well no, in that case it wasn’t the picture it was more that oh it was fun for her that she was going to travel - @bella

15In this case, the Like was not performed as a way to endorse the aesthetics of the picture in itself, but rather used as an expression of liking what the picture entails. Acknowledging an ambiguity, these participants’ descriptions show that there is no universal meaning of Likes and no obvious interpretation that may be applied to every Like on Instagram, neither given nor received. Rather, the data presented in this paper confirms findings from previous studies suggesting that Likes may have multiple possible meanings (Hayes, Carr, & Wohn, 2016). On some occasions, a Like means that something is being liked, but the extent of the appreciation may vary, ranging from judging the content as being only okay to considering it being good. In addition, some Likes are not performed as a way to show appreciation of a picture at all, but may rather contain a number of other possible connotations such as wishing someone a nice trip, or just liking because of the relationship one might have to the person posting the picture, hereby having Likes serve as a kind of social support.

Finding social reference points for the meaning of a like

16When interpreting some Likes, participants described using their existing or non-existing relationship to the person performing the Like as a social reference point. Several participants described how they expect some of their followers to like certain instagrams, and how they value Likes from different people in different ways:

But then I have noticed that it is sort of depending on what pictures it is, that uhm, people like very differently so you get Likes from different people depending on what it is - @bella

Well you like refer to, you like kind of relate to who it is that’s liking, […] there are certainly some that I feel that oh well they, they kinda they like everything I put out or they like only nice pictures no matter the text or yeah these care mostly about the text and so on so you, you do see some patterns - @charlie

Uhm my very best friends, they are the ones who like my pictures the most so there it can be a bit like this that well yeah of course you like that picture, you are my best friend - @ellen

I think it’s funny when uhm others [like] well then you know that the picture is good, that it is someone who likes, that it isn’t just some friend who does it because they know me or because they oh well like I have also been there once or that uhm but more that it’s like that oh but that is a nice picture - @bobby

17The first examples show how Likes from people who are already known to the users are sometimes expected and following a certain pattern. Touching upon the same notion but describing a different pattern, the last example highlights how a non-existing relationship may be used as a reference point to exclude some of the potential, additional meanings. When receiving a Like from someone who knows him outside of Instagram, this participant interprets that specific Like as containing possible other and additional information, information that other users interpret and describe as social support as it acknowledges a previous relationship. He describes how he interprets a Like from someone he doesn’t know differently than how he would interpret a Like from someone he has an existing relationship with. Interestingly, he translates this kind of Like into being an endorsement of the picture. Using his non-existing relationship with the person performing the Like as a social reference point, he is able to dismiss the idea of someone liking his content for other reasons than actual appreciation of the Instagram, i.e. “then you know that the picture is good”. Some participants described how previous numbers of Likes performed by others sometimes influence their own liking practices. If someone has liked a great number of ones’ own instagrams, it was explained to be likely that the threshold for liking these users’ content in return, was lowered. Other users’ previous liking behaviour affects own willingness to like that specific user’s instagrams in return. Referring to this phenomenon, one participant described how she had noticed how other users’ likings of her content had affected her own liking practices:

There are some who like a great deal of one’s own pictures and then sometimes maybe it can feel like sort of a kind-like back […] then maybe you think more about liking that persons’ pictures to - @sophie

18The same notion is further illustrated by the following example in which one participant describe that she had posted a picture of Swedish text and received a Like on that instagram. As she noticed who had performed the Like she was puzzled as this user was Brazilian and likely did not understand the Swedish text. When asked how she interpreted that Like, she answered:

… maybe he is looking for me to like all of his pictures as well or yeah well, I don’t know […] maybe they think that if they like my pictures, I will like theirs - @emma

19A certain kind of liking practice is highlighted here, where liking is assumed to be used as a strategic action in order to gain Likes back in return, rather than as an expression of actual appreciation of content. This example, in addition to previous examples in this section, shows how Instagram users find and create social reference points as a way to ease interpretation of Likes. Participants described their relationship to the person performing the Like as being an important factor, placing the Like and interpreting its meaning within a larger social context.

Handling absent likes

20Within the previous two sections, a number of interpretations of performed and received Likes have been discussed. However, the participants also described interpretations of Likes they did not receive. One participant who had only received a few Likes on an instagram explained that she interpreted the absence of Likes as a result of her followers being on holiday and therefore not being able to like:

It also depends on what time it is, now it is holiday which means that many of my friends are abroad […] or they don’t have any Internet access […] so I can imagine that towards the evening, they will come - @hannah

21This user acknowledged having received fewer Likes than expected at the time, but also provided a pragmatic explanation to why. However, a young woman articulated a different reaction when not getting the feedback she was expecting:

Why, what, that is a super funny picture I think […] If I put up a picture […] that hasn’t received any Likes, then I can see that as a small failure […] sometimes it can even lead to, although it is very rare, but that I remove the picture - @ellen

22This user described more of a disappointment when not receiving the feedback she was expecting and how the absence of Likes sometimes makes her question, and even removing, an Instagram that doesn’t receive enough Likes. Sometimes, absent Likes are interpreted as sort of a “telling silence”. The same participant continued by explaining what goes through her mind when noticing that her friend has been active on Instagram, but not liking her specific instagram:

Like oh ok you scrolled by my picture, you saw my picture and you scrolled by it but you didn’t like it, do you think that it is ugly? - @ellen

23Another participant posted an instagram of some budgerigars, having her best friend and his interest in this specific bird species in mind, in a way directing the post specifically towards him. When noticing not having received a Like from him, she explained that she planned to send the picture to him through text message instead as her interpretation of the absence of a Like from him was that he had probably not seen the post. This strategy, i.e. turning to another communication channel to share the picture when not receiving the expected feedback on Instagram was mentioned by a number of users who participated in the study. Clearly, not only Likes that are received are being interpreted, but to a high degree, absent Likes are being attempted to decipher as well. To Instagram users, even absent Likes are viewed as possible containers of information. Sometimes, absent Likes are even interpreted as the non-liker actively express dislike. As previous studies have shown, users perceive Likes as socially supportive even without implicit meaning associated with them (Wohn et al., 2016). What these previous examples show is that when expected Likes are absent, this is sometimes interpreted as a lack of expected social support. Users’ rely on their previous experiences of certain people liking their Instagram, and when these reactions are absent, users notice them missing and react. These reactions may be either reflexive, as simply wondering why the content did not receive the expected endorsement or finding explanations such as lack of Internet access. On other occasions, their reactions are more reactive, as removing the pictures from Instagram or turning to another communication channel.

Concluding discussion

24Liking a picture on Instagram is not necessarily equivalent to actually liking the picture. A simple Like may be expressed by a number of reasons and interpreted in a variety of ways. For instance, receiving a great number of Likes from someone outside of one’s own network are sometimes interpreted rather as a strategy used to gain Likes back in return than as actual appreciation of content. However, although acknowledging this way of liking as a possible strategy to gain Likes back, some users admit to adjusting their own liking behaviour and lowering the bar for returning the favour. In this paper, the poverty and richness of the seemingly simple action of liking on Instagram has been unpacked. Although Likes are sometimes referred to as lightweight interaction, in this paper, it has been argued that the practice of liking is not simple nor lightweight, but rather include a complex form of social interaction that users need to understand and engage in to be able to communicate properly on Instagram.

25Although Likes were originally introduced to allow social media users to express fondness through a simple click, the reasoning of the participants in this study show that the meaning of these seemingly simple clicks are not always interpreted as simply. Within other fields, such as marketing and advertising, counting of Likes has been used as a way to measure campaign effectiveness or to estimate the number of people who favour a certain company (Zarrella, 2012). This study, however, confirms the assumption that one single Like can mean a number of things (Hayes, Carr & Wohn, 2016) which implies that only measuring and taking the number of Likes into account is not enough to capture the actual value and meaning of those Likes. This conclusion is in line with both the work of Yan and Kaziunas (2012) arguing that the value of a tweet is rather qualitative than quantitative as well as with the work of Scissors et al. (2016) showing that on Facebook, the number of Likes is not as important to users as who has performed them. From the findings presented in this paper it is clear that a seemingly simple piece of communication such as a single Like can mean a multitude of things and be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the social context. Due to this complexity, the value and meaning of Likes cannot be measured purely in terms of numbers.

26Other researchers have approached and struggled with similar issues related to multiple possible meanings of computer-mediated expressions. For instance, Turkle (2011) noticed that to Facebook users there is an important distinction being made between a friend and someone who has been befriended on Facebook. As highlighted in the initial example regarding the heart symbol replacing the star symbol on Twitter, users tend to make a clear distinction between favoriting something on Twitter and actually liking something, stating that “favoriting something on Twitter is not the same thing as liking it” (Whitten, 2015). In a similar way, there is a significant difference between liking a picture and liking an Instagram. The examples in this paper show that when liking an Instagram, it is not always the picture in itself that is being liked but rather suggests that this social button enables a complex expression of appreciation of both explicit and implicit content. Examining a Like received from a friend, one participant stated that: ‘She liked the picture so I think she liked it’, which highlights this particular dilemma. The process of interpreting Likes are closely linked to the social context in which they are performed and not performed and is often perceived as rather a form of social support than as an appreciation of the aesthetics of the picture. The perceived meaning of a Like is regulated by the relationship between the person performing the Like and the person receiving it. A Like is not always a symbol of endorsement of content, but rather a representation of a hefty amount of information. Pressing the Like button is not only a technical action, but much rather part of a social expression adapted to a set of social rules that regulates this practice. Recent studies have supported the idea that social media users develop a great sensitivity for the norms that regulate their use (as shown by [Buehler, 2017] for example). In terms of norms that regulate liking practices on Instagram, this sensitivity is highlighted by users showing awareness about not only Likes they receive but only on Likes they do not receive. As shown in this paper, not only received Likes are being interpreted, but on some occasions, absent Likes are being analysed as well. To Instagram users, even absent Likes are sometimes viewed as possible containers of information. Sometimes, absent Likes are even interpreted as the non-liker actively expressing dislike. Many Instagram users show a great awareness of who will like which of their pictures. Users perceive Likes as socially supportive even without implicit meaning associated with them (Wohn et al., 2016). When Likes from certain followers are expected but missing, these non-Likes are sometimes interpreted as a lack of expected social support.

27Apart from the technical possibilities, platform norms regulate the use of the platform, shaping the platform vernacular. A central part of the platform vernacular of Instagram is knowing how, when and what to like. Although having a specific and for the platform unique vernacular, it is difficult to talk about any social media platform as one unified space, with a homogeneous set of communication rules that regulate all use on that platform. Use of a certain platform may be relying on the same technical features, yet each user on each specific platform have their own network consisting of their own unique set of followers and users they follow which shape their social experiences in very different ways. The social practices found on social media platforms are constantly changing as they are being engaged in and negotiated by the people interacting on them. Future research could examine possible similarities and differences between the social practices of liking on Instagram and liking on other social media platforms to contribute further to understanding the complexity of social media platform vernaculars.

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Beata Jungselius, « “She liked the picture so i think she liked it”. Unpacking the social practice of liking »Netcom, 33-1/2 | -1, 23-38.

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Beata Jungselius, « “She liked the picture so i think she liked it”. Unpacking the social practice of liking »Netcom [En ligne], 33-1/2 | 2019, mis en ligne le 09 septembre 2019, consulté le 28 novembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Beata Jungselius

Department of Applied IT, University of Gothenburg,

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