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Instagram hides likes in groundbreaking self-esteem trial

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Anna Brech
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Instagram is trialling a hidden count feature on its feeds, amid concerns over its effect on self-image and confidence

Instagram is hiding the number of like counts on its posts in several countries this week, in a pioneering experiment that aims to ease the pressure of being judged by other users.

From today, followers in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil will see the poster’s name “and others” in place of a like figure – represented by heart symbols – on their feeds.

The trial aims to tackle concerns that Instagram use triggers low self-worth, particularly amid its younger audience.

“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” says Mia Garlick, director of policy at Facebook Australia and New Zealand.

People will still be able to see how many likes their own posts get, but that information will not be publicly available. 

Facebook adds that it wants people to focus less on the number of likes a post gets, and more on telling the story.

Millennials are supposedly obsessed with getting Instagram likes, according to older generations.
Studies suggest Instagram is fuelling insecurity among young users

With over one billion monthly users, Instagram is the world’s most popular social network after YouTube and Facebook. Nearly half of those on Instagram check it multiple times a day, and 71% of its audience is aged under 35. 

However, research into how Instagram is affecting self-image and mental health is struggling to keep pace with the platform’s meteoric growth.

The data that is available points to a few worrying trends. This 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.

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. 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 academics have previously said that it’s the content – rather than a like count per se – that is most damaging when it comes to self-esteem.

“The biggest impact of Instagram is the content,” Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University tells CNN. “The exposure to this constant stream of perfected images is what seems to hurt psychologically.”

Images: Julián Gentilezza and Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.