Instagram Expands Tests of Hiding Likes to Reduce Anxiety

Facebook’s Instagram began testing a new approach with users in Canada two months ago and this week expanded its efforts to include users in Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. The experiment removes emphasis on the “Like” feature to minimize the pressure to compete, while hopefully creating a more personal and enjoyable experience. Users are still able to see who liked other people’s posts or watched their videos, but there is no longer a running tally of the number of likes and views (however, users can still privately see the counts for their own posts).

Instagram is aiming to focus more on the content and its community, rather than the urge to compete. “We are expanding the test to get a better sense of how the experience resonates with Instagram’s global community,” explained Facebook spokesperson Seine Kim.

“We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition,” said Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, at Facebook’s annual developers conference in April. “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people they care about.”

According to The New York Times, “Instagram’s testing comes at a time when social media platforms, following years of scrutiny, are experimenting with their metrics. YouTube changed the way it displays subscriber counts on channels. And Twitter no longer reports its ‘monthly active user’ metric to investors.”

The move is “part of Instagram’s new focus on its app’s effects on mental health,” notes Vox, “a pivot that also includes a handful of anti-bullying measures … and emphasis on ‘digital well-being,’ which mostly entails reducing screen time and limiting notifications.”

Proponents of the change believe it could ultimately help reduce pressure and competition so that users, especially young people, might not experience as much anxiety by equating likes with self-worth.

However, some are concerned that the move could be detrimental by reducing the power of social influencers, since brands typically look to make deals with the online personalities who have higher engagement rates.

“I think this move is Facebook trying to de-influence influencers,” tweeted chef and author Adam Liaw (as reported by NYT). “They’re seeing millions/billions of advertising dollars that they want funneled into paid promotion going direct to users outside their ecosystem.”

However, marketing blogger Charles Tumiotto Jackson suggests the change would not have a negative impact, but could help curb the faking of engagement rates and number of followers — and ultimately place more emphasis on Instagram Stories.

“This way, the reach of the campaign and the ROI are totally accessible by the brand and/or the agency,” he writes. Additionally, “the influencer cannot cheat about the legitimacy [of] his or her audience. Everything becomes measurable and even more transparent than it used to be.”

Instagram Introduces New Anti-Bullying Features, The Wall Street Journal, 7/8/19
Instagram Will Start Sending You a Warning if You Leave a Mean Comment, CNBC, 7/8/19
Instagram’s New Chat Sticker Lets Friends Ask to Get In On the Conversation Directly in Stories, TechCrunch, 7/5/19