Instagram is attempting to make its network a less competitive place for users, as it rolls out a game-changing pilot scheme to hide like counts.
When we’re scrolling through Instagram, soaking in photos of palm-fringed beaches or admiring the latest maximalist interiors trend, most of us probably can’t resist casting a glance at how many likes the post we’re looking at is getting.
But we could soon not have access to that information, as the platform expands an experiment it’s been conducting to hide like counts on a global basis.
The move, announced yesterday, means users randomly selected to take part in the test will no longer be able to see the number of likes appearing below other people’s posts on the social media channel.
Posters will still be able to see how many likes their own photos and videos get, but that information may not be available to others.
In place of a like figure – represented by heart symbols – next to content on their feeds, those using Instagram worldwide may just see the poster’s name, and the name of one other person who has liked the post, alongside the phrase “and others”.
Instagram said the development was aimed at making its platform a kinder place for young people.
It also acknowledged that the pilot scheme represents a major change in the way that it runs, and vowed to find solutions for creators who rely on like counts to translate value to their audiences.
The move follows comments from head of Instagram Adam Mosseri at the Wired 25 tech summit in San Francisco last week.
“Right now, we’re testing making like counts private, so you’ll be able to see how many people liked a given photo of yours or a video of yours, but no one else will,” he said (as reported via NPR).
“It’s about young people,” he added. “The idea is to try to ‘depressurise’ Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”
Instagram has spent much of this year conducting trials to hide likes in locations such as Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil.
With over one billion monthly users, it is the world’s most popular social network after YouTube and Facebook. Nearly half of those on the platform check it multiple times a day, and 71% of its audience is aged under 35.
However, research into how the network is affecting self-image and mental health is struggling to keep pace with its meteoric growth.
The data that is available points to a few worrying trends. A 2018 study from York University in Canada found that young women felt worse about themselves after interacting with a post of someone they perceived as more attractive than them on Instagram.
Another survey published at a similar time by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that undergraduates who limited their time on Instagram and other social media platforms over a three-week period felt significantly less lonely and depressed as a result.
In 2017, the network was rated as the worst social media platform in a UK poll, in terms of its negative impact on young people’s mental health. At the time, Instagram said it was working to keep its feeds a safe and supportive place.
This latest experiment is part of a bigger effort to fulfill this aim, although not everyone is a fan. Singer Nicki Minaj has already threatened to boycott the platform over its decision to shield likes.
Others claim that it is the content on Instagram, rather than the like count per se, that causes damage to self-esteem.
“The biggest impact of Instagram is the content,” Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University told CNN in July. “The exposure to this constant stream of perfected images is what seems to hurt psychologically.”
It’ll be intriguing to see exactly what impact hiding likes has on the Instagram experience in coming weeks; we’ll watch and scroll with a critical eye.