We Talked to the People Who Go LikeLikeLikeLikeLike on Your Instagram Posts

Do they just want attention? Or is it... something more?
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
A collage of screenshots of the same user liking several Instagram posts in a row
Illustration by Katie Way

It’s not easy getting noticed online anymore. Gone are the days when we were all one scream-crying plea to leave Britney alone away from internet superstardom (no offense to Chris Crocker, who was objectively right). We all spend so much time interacting with each other on the internet that it sometimes blurs together in a slurry of recycled one-liners, self-promotion, and hazy quasi-horniness. We all receive so many notifications a day—awesome, Chipotle cares about my mental health!—that for something to stand out, it needs to be truly distinctive, truly eye-catching. 


The move that cuts through the noise? Liking a ton of someone’s posts, from the present-day offerings back to the black border, Valencia-filtered days, in rapid succession. I’ve found myself at the receiving end of a “like barrage” enough times that I needed to find out: why is this happening and what do these people want?

According to our research, the like sprees fall into one of three major categories.. There’s the hamfisted marketing ploy, wherein one person or one brand vies for the like-receiver's attention by hopping into their notifications; there’s the “so nice meeting you last night!” version of the maneuver from anyone ranging from a potential new friend to a new crush; and there’s the overt flirt variety from an internet acquaintance begging for a double-tap (or more) in return.

Not to like my own posts, but it turns out that I am actually a prime target for this kind of like-spree: I’m a triple-threat digital media worker, a party girl, and a hot person. So, obviously, I did what anyone else sitting at that special intersection of identities would: I mined my social media following for content. Duh! Here’s what all three types of super-likers had to say for themselves.

The new friend (?)

Exchanging Instagram handles at the end of a whirlwind night out was de rigueur before the pandemic, and now that venues, bars, and restaurants have reopened across the U.S., that behavior has resumed in force—and the likes have followed suit. “If I ever hyper-like someone, 50 percent of the time it’s a platonic thing, 35 percent of the time I am peacocking, throwing out a little bit of flair, flopping like a fish to get their attention. And then the last 15 percent is, I genuinely think this person is cool or cute and I would like to pursue it further,” Chris Connors, who works as a social media manager and regularly “hyper-likes,” told me. 

This like-spree can be the follow-up to an excellent conversation at a house party, where exchanging numbers would have felt too formal (and, honestly, you might not have remembered their name anyway), setting the scene for a “Would you like to get a drink sometime?” ask in the future. Instead of the stealthy creep of yore where an accidental like threatens to expose your activity, it’s an open admission that you are taking a spin through their feed, and enjoying it. 


Connors said that when it comes to hyper-liking the pictures of someone he’s interested in, timing his likes is critical—he only deploys the move the day after he’s met and followed someone new to avoid coming off like a creep. “If you have to do it weeks after you've followed someone, it’s like, What is this person up to? Did they have a dream about me? Why did they do this instead of engaging with my story or just messaging me?” Why indeed! 

The beauty of the multi-like is also that it’s easy to do—it literally takes seconds—yet noticeable without being intrusive. Connors said he’ll occasionally scroll back and like someone’s ancient (read: early 2010s era) posts to add a little levity to the interaction. “I love going back to the first post ever, scrolling all the way down and liking a dumb photo of them and their dog.”

This is probably the most effective and least intrusive iteration of the like-spree. Sometimes, it’s the digital version of gassing up the new best friends you meet in the bar bathroom—probably because the people whose photos you’re liking and commenting “SO FUCKING SEXYY” on are literally the people you met in the bar bathroom. 

“I love Twitter, but those are just strangers who share the same brain worms as me,” Connors said. “On Instagram, those are people within my social circle, or within my social circles, so to follow you on Instagram is to validate that I would be interested in having you in my life, whether it's platonic or something more.” 


Consider these likes another dimension of our reentry into public life and the sloppy, euphoric socializing that comes with it.

The horny rando

Of course, not everyone is tap-tap-tapping on Instagram to make friends. Sometimes the simplest explanation for a behavior is the right one: It’s a DM slide from a stranger who’s too polite or too proud to actually DM slide.

“Wait, are there people that DON’T do this??” John (who I’d affectionately consider more of a reply guy at this point) said in response to my callout. “But for real, I don’t think it’s a ‘tactic’ so much as it’s just trying to get on someone’s radar. Sometimes I don’t even notice a new follower, so it’s just a soft way of knowing that someone thinks you’re cute.” 

This version of the like-spree is straight outta Tinder and Grindr, or any dating apps that let you link your Instagram account to prove you’re an actual human being on the other side of the screen. It’s far less aggressive than the “Y did you swipe left????” DM request, but more assertive than the chaste follow. John clocked his flirt success rate at around 50/50 and noted that, as someone on the hyper-like sending and receiving side, he’s found it to be a low-stakes way to “get [someone’s] attention but also validate them at the same time.”

This might not be the way I’m using Instagram, but for some people, it’s par for the course. “It’s the IG strategy. You follow a girl and like a couple of her pics and if she’s interested in you, she’ll do the same and wait for your DM If you’re an ugly guy, she’ll keep you in her requests and pretend she never saw it,” a man named Kev told me, elaborating that he has “had girls [shooting] their shots in the DMs say some vulgar shit,” which I absolutely love for him.


The networking hustler

My Instagram story soliciting sources for this piece received an unexpected reaction from a very specific group of people: music journalists, whose notifications are apparently overwrought with like-sprees from people looking for coverage. “I have no idea why it’s THE MOVE,” one told me. “I always figured it was a bot thing.” Other people, especially those who write or produce content for the internet, reported similar nudges from PR people looking to pitch them or brands vying for a featured post—a preamble to the classic “DM to collab?” comment. 

Other hyper-likers are just looking to connect with bigger accounts in their communities. Matt Liebergall, who runs a small photography-oriented Instagram account (and is, full disclosure, my good friend), said he’s tried the tactic a few times on photography accounts with more than 100,000 followers in the hopes of getting noticed. “It’s 3-5 likes and a comment or two, to be clear,” Liebergall said when I started to give him shit about being a “10x like guy.” “I tap a few recent posts and say something like ‘what camera do you use?’ or ‘What focal length is this?’” 

Based on the irritation of people on the receiving end of these likes, plus Liebergall’s own experience, it feels safe to conclude that this is the least effective version of this multi-like tactic. “It has worked 0 percent of the time,” he said. “Never had one of ‘em follow me back. I’ve only tried it a few times though, I swear.”

The obvious, overarching end-goal of the like-spree is to snag a little bit of someone’s attention by giving them what they—what we all!—want when they post: a little validation, a little hit of serotonin, a little confirmation of a message received. It might not always “work” when it comes to growing the interaction into something more, something offline, but for the hyper-likers, it’s so easy to do that it’s worth a shot.

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