Raise your hand if you have ever deleted a post on Instagram because it didn’t get as many likes as you thought it would. I’ve certainly done so, especially in pursuit of that elusive popular concept known as an aesthetic.
However, what would you do if you couldn’t see the number of likes on an Instagram post?
Back in April of this year, the social media giant Instagram played around with this idea, testing out a new feature that hides the number of likes on posts from the public eye. The poster can see how many likes are attributed to his/her post but everyone else just sees a username of someone who liked the post followed by “and others”. By doing this, Instagram aims to shift people’s attention away from the number of likes and towards connecting more with those they care about (1).
The first test was conducted in Canada about two months ago, and it was met with mixed reviews. Some people lauded the decision, saying that it was a welcome move in the social media sphere. Others were not as pleased and thought that it wasn’t a strong enough strategy to fight against bullying and other issues on the platform.
Taking it a step further, Instagram announced that they will be extending the test into other countries, citing Australia, Ireland, Japan, Brazil, Italy, and New Zealand as their next targets (1). As of now, it is not really certain whether testing will be conducted in the United States and when it would be done.
In response, people have expressed concerns about the potential for this tactic to disrupt the booming influencer market. Instagram content creators and businesses that utilize influencer marketing pay attention to metrics such as likes count and engagement rates in order to gauge success (2). As likes have been considered an important indicator for engagement, they are worried that they could lose business opportunities. Turns out, despite the change, creators and businesses are still able to access their detailed metrics.
Over the years, the like button has evolved into a measure of popularity. For some people, this heart-shaped button near the bottom of posts brings much anxiety over how other people view their pictures and essentially how they view themselves. People argue that Instagram created a culture of competition and pressure, one that leads users to attach their self-worth to their image online (1).
In a recent study by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom, Instagram topped the list as having the most negative effect on young people’s mental health (3). In addition, various research articles have connected social media use with increased levels of anxiety and other mental health issues, especially among teenagers. Perhaps, making likes private could help mitigate some of the negative effects users experience through the app.
The question is, how much will removing the likes count impact user interaction with Instagram? I personally think that this test is a good move in the right direction.
Although it is not a dramatic move, it shows that Instagram is stepping up to the plate – that the media giant will try to face the mental issues that have been propagated through the app. Hiding likes can decrease the comparative culture of Instagram in some ways, allowing people to focus more on their own images rather than others.
1. Orso, Anna. “Will Instagram hiding ‘likes’ really change the affirmation culture it helped create?” The Inquirer, 23 July 2019. The Philadelphia Inquirer. https://www.inquirer.com/news/instagram-hiding-like-counts-test-expansion-mental-health-teens-social-media-anxiety-20190723.html
2. Loren, Taylor. “Instagram is Hiding Likes: Here’s Everything You Need to Know.” Later, 18 July 2019. https://later.com/blog/hidden-likes-instagram/
3. Yurieff, Kaya. “Instagram doubles down on test to hide likes.” CNN, 17 July 2019. Cable News Network. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/17/tech/instagram-hiding-likes-test/index.html