Here's What a "Like" Really Means on Every Social Media Platform


If the rise of social media has taught us anything, it's that humans are lazy and would rather click a button than put a sentiment into words.

The ultimate example of this phenomenon? The like.

While the deceptively simple purpose of the "like" button suggests the act of, well, liking something, our actual liking habits paint a different picture. Whether you're faving a tweet because you think the tweeter is attractive or liking your boss's Facebook status update as a way to curry favor, the like usually comes with a ton of subtext. 

To decode the meaning behind our likes, we used Google Forms to conduct an informal survey of 20-somethings' liking habits. While some reported using the feature to acknowledge a friend's presence on their timelines (as one sassy respondent wrote, "I see you, bitch"), the vast majority reported there's usually deeper meaning involved.  

Here's what our likes would really look like if paired with the one filter we don't have on Instagram: real talk. 

1. "I want to see you naked IRL."

For the single and horny, a like often comes with some serious hookup-facilitating powers. Put simply, it's the easiest, most risk-free way of expressing to someone that you're DTF. "If you are a girl, it means I'm sexually attracted to you," wrote a 26-year-old straight dude respondent. "Nine out of 10 likes are given to girls I want to have sex with."


2. "I have a wholesome crush on you."

More flirtatious than salacious, this variation of the like has a bit more of a "Call Me Maybe" vibe. It's a way to hedge your bets and express interest in someone without a firm commitment. 

"When I have a crush on someone, a like on their photos or posts or statuses is kind of a not-too-forward way of saying, 'Hi, I like you,'" one strategic social media user wrote. "The system is: friend/follow, like posts, comment on posts, DMs, exchange numbers. Then you go from there."

3. "More people need to see this!" 

Some people said they like posts as a way to make sure they get more eyeballs, dishing them out only when they see content that's truly exceptional. "To me [a like is] an upvote, like in Reddit," one respondent wrote. "I wish there was a dislike."


4. "I'm doing this for me, actually."

Remember the principles of reciprocity that you learned about in Psych 101? This is the social media version.

"You need to develop a good mutual liking relationship with someone," one 22-year-old respondent answered. "If you don't like a bunch of people's shit, they're probably not gonna like your shit."

5. "I'm just on a liking spree right now."

While not everybody is like this dude, who spent two days liking literally everything he saw, we all sometimes have our like-happy moods. As one liker wrote in our survey, "[I like this because] I like EVERYTHING today!" 


6. "IDK what to say."

Occasionally on social media, you'll come across a post — a status update about someone losing their job, for instance — that'll put you at a loss for words. Sometimes a like can serve as a simple, effective way of saying "I don't know what to say." 

"You give a like when you see a post and you feel like you should say something but you don't know what to say — their dog died, etc," one reader wrote. "It's kind of a light pat on the shoulder."

7. "LOL." 

Props to those who are funny enough to actually solicit real LOLs in their comment sections, because many respondents indicated that likes typically do the job for conveying a general sense of amusement. Liking something simply because "it's funny" was a standard response among survey participants.

8. "You seem like you need some validation, so here ya go."

Which brings us to the obverse of the LOL like: the pity like. "No one else has liked a friend's photo and I feel bad about it," wrote one very honest 25-year-old. While it may be uncomfortable to admit that these pity likes are happening all around us, chances are we've all received at least one for a bad joke or poorly timed social media post.


9. "This is too good not to like."

Many of us have that one friend who is always snapping selfies with random celebs and hitting up vacation locales that you've only ever seen visited by the Kardashians. Love them or hate them, we're probably liking their shit. 

One respondent wrote that he only likes posts "when someone's content is so good you almost have to throw them a like, e.g., a selfie with Hilary Clinton." Yeah, that seems worth a like or two. 

10. "Everyone else is liking this, so why not?"

Bandwagon-liking is a thing, as one 22-year-old indicated in the survey: "You don't wanna miss out on liking something everyone else is liking."

11. "Sorry for being the worst friend ever."

Sometimes a scroll through Instagram can dredge up genuine emotions. For instance, if you suddenly happen upon the selfie of a friend you've been flaking on a bit too much lately, you might like their post as a form of penance. 

The apology like is a way of saying "'See, I do notice you! Can this count as friend points for the next several months?'" one 27-year-old woman wrote. "'Since let's be real, we aren't going to actually hang out and I don't wanna feel guilty about being a shit friend.'"


12. "Seriously, call me back."

On the other hand, the "call me back" like, riddled with passive-aggressive undertones, can sometimes be the wake-up call a friend needs to stay on top of their missed call log and reflect on their priorities. As one survey-taker responded: "You have time to post something, yet you don't have time to call/text me?" Rude. 

13. "You're my BFF."

At the end of the day, the most important likes are the ones coming from those who are most important to us offline: our besties.

"I expect a bare minimum of likes per post based purely on the exact number of close friends I have," one female respondent said. "One like per biff. Friend inventory." Another echoed this sentiment: "The people in my direct circle of friends automatically get their pictures liked because that's what squad does."