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Making #Love Instagrammable.
Has social media trivialised human affection? 

Paulina Utnik, City, University of London

Loud and passionate. Silent and unconditional. Visible in various religions and cultures. Differing from personal beliefs and varying between species. There is not one core definition of love, although many try to impose one ‘true’ interpretation. As technology develops so does our behaviour, meanings and understandings. How has technology affected our relationships? Has platformisation reached the sphere of love? And, has the introduction of social media trivialised human affection?


Traditionally, one might view love as the bond between two individuals; a parent and child or husband and wife [Read more here]. The first definition of love mentioned in the Bible is not romantic love, but platonic, as Jesus advocates for love for one's enemies. Both Greek and Roman mythologies present love as a passion with sensual desire and longing (Aphrodite and Cupid). Greek culture advocated agape. The divine unselfish love for others, later adopted by Christianity throughout both testaments in the Bible, the word ‘love’ is interchangeably used with ‘light.’ [Read more here]. 


During Medieval times, there was an idealised version of courtly, often tragic love. Shakespeare often used love as a centrepiece motif in his plays, an emotion he associated with innocence and purity. The works of various artists, philosophers and authors are filled with interpretations of both erotic, romantic and spiritual love. Their works overfill with mother love, in relation to family and patriotism. Modern-day takes such as self-love are promoted via multiple mediums, virtual and physical. Human affection has since manifested itself in different ways, never possible to grasp in unified terms, yet always limited by social constructs. 




Hashtag culture

The position of social media has become a key source when discussing important issues and trivial realities. Information and communication technologies are now recognised as the backbone of many social movements, regardless of their size or thematic focus, and an environment for information circulation. They are the new centre of social life. 

Among many social media platforms, Twitter has adapted the hashtag culture to then become one of the most important birthplaces of social media activism. The original 140 character limit per post (now 280) meant that hashtags were adapted to simplify complicated information into short phrases that are culturally rich and widely understood. Therefore, the humble hashtag is a powerful online tool, used to spread messages throughout multiple groups, communities and platforms. It helps people search for the content they require and works almost like a filter, helping you to find unity online and form communities based on your interests. 


The reasoning behind a person's use of a hashtag varies depending on their interests. They might be referring to a social movement, an important issue, particular emotion, an inside joke. It might just be a simple, vague word which is actually unimaginably complex. 


Therefore, in the digital world, love is organised by simply a ‘#’ and varies from the love for food (#foodporn) and dogs (#doggos or Polish #pjeski) to the idealised digital relationship (#couplegoals). It projects acceptance of oneself (#selflove) and crucial social issues such as LGBT rights (#Lovewins). #Love in the new online world is undeniably diverse. 

Affection on social media 

We share what we love, and we love to share. Social media has become a huge staple in our daily routine, from the moment the cock crows to the time the light fades. It's a tool which allows us to connect with friends and relatives and helps maintain all versions of relationships. Digital platforms allow us to explore a limitless plethora of love. 


Research shows that happiness is the main driver of social media sharing. Romantic tragedies are a thing of the past, and with the exception of social media love-centric celebrity dramas, the love which we see online does not have much to do with romantic suffering. Somehow idealised love on social media represents mainly positive associations, hence, emotions layered with, and linked to happiness make up the majority of most viral content online. 


Looking for a long-lasting relationship or a one night stand? Social media can help you with that too. Tinder, Grinder, Bumble are the top ‘go-to’ dating apps which can ease your search for ‘love.’ Earlier this year The Telegraph reported that nearly a 1/4 of Britons use dating apps on a bi-weekly basis. Now is the time where online love and real-life love become interlinking concepts. The love found on Tinder is, however, often perceived as ‘less serious,’ despite the fact that not long ago people reached out for announcements in newspapers or used the help of a matchmaker when looking for a partner.


So the purpose of a digital platform does not have to be romantic or sexual for people to share their affections on it. #Love is a standout example of this. #Lovewins is a variant of the love hashtag, with powerful ties to the LGBT movement. It advocates for acceptance, promotes pride of the community and transforms a simple hashtag into a powerful political statement. 


Another example is #selflove. It allows people of all genders, sexual orientations and body types to showcase themselves online, not in vanity or narcissism but as a statement that they are comfortable in their own skin and want others to feel the love they have for themselves. The core concept is to inspire others to share their own self-love shamelessly despite how they may feel about their physical appearances. 


This modern approach to self-presentation does gain some negativity. Selfies are discussed by scholars as media commodities contributing to the notions of hypervisibility. They are seen as a conceited search for validation, a curious contrast between confidence and insecurity. #Selflove is a hashtag with the capacity to confirm, deny or negotiate identities within social media and beyond.

Can we share too much #love? 

Amongst all the positivity associated with love, the predominant view is that it thrives in privacy. Psychology Today states that a lack of prioritising real-life connections in favour of digitally based ones can lead to failure in relationships. Over-indulgence in any capacity breeds negativity and according to the Danish Happiness Research Institute those who limit social media usage, in general, tend to report greater levels of satisfaction with their lives and assurance in themselves.


Has social media trivialised love? One could argue that it has been digitally commercialised and influenced by the ‘like’ economy, where monetisation is a driving force of consistent social media presence. Instagram posts of #couplegoals standardise the ideas of a relationship. To follow French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, the media machinery of contemporary capitalism has allowed the endless flow of images to destroy our perceptions of reality. 


Aren’t the smiling Instagram couples and their photos from Bali simply following the medieval imaginations of idealised love? Are they the modern interpretation of a portrait of love, something which we should all strive for? Perhaps the current generation finds the use of #love to fulfil the need to feel emotions and not feel alone or to show their kind of affection. Maybe the use of #love in relation to another person on a social media platform is the embodiment of the emotion, a gesture which is familiar and safe.


Digital platforms have given humans the ability to show love in a more visual and persistent way. Social media may not have trivialised love but actually has made it more abundant, and the vulnerability associated with love more acceptable in society. The notion of love has simply expanded with a four-letter hashtag carrying a universally understood abundance of meaning.  

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