Instagram is about to launch a test of removing like counts from posts in the U.S. — and, predictably, the idea has been met with a range of reactions ranging from praise and support to concern and mockery.
The hope is that the change can reduce anxiety among Instagram users, to make social media less of a competition, especially among younger people, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri explained in announcing the U.S. test at the Wired25 event Friday.
“I think you also have to rethink some of the fundamentals about how Instagram works, and so that’s what we’re trying to do with private like counts,” he said. “The idea is to try and depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”
Mosseri added, “We will make decisions that hurt the business [in the short term] if they’re good for people’s well-being and health — because it has to be good for the business over the long-term.”
Feedback starting pouring in immediately. Some opined that removing like counts (while still making them viewable to Instagram users for their own posts) will effectively destroy a pivotal piece of the platform’s social currency.
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“If Instagram gets rid of likes half of Los Angeles will be out of business,” quipped Tommy Alter, supervising producer at “Desus & Mero” on Showtime.
Instagram will still publish follower counts — arguably the platform’s biggest status symbol. But masking the number of likes on Instagram posts will hurt up-and-coming creators by removing a key way they get discovered, some suggested. “Instagram removing likes may be terrible for emerging artists online. My work got seen because larger accounts saw the popularity of my pieces and shared them to their followers. Without likes, recognition in the art world returns to ‘who you know’ or subjective elitist tastes,” artist Peter DeLuce tweeted.
On the other hand, the change could actually help influencers and other content creators by providing a more realistic reflection of their engagement, according to Karen Civil, a social media marketing strategist. “Metrics will still be available to the user so this will be great for social media influencers with real engagement when showing their media kit,” she tweeted. “This move is to make Instagram a safer place and to stop users from allowing ‘likes’ to dictate their content.”
Other commenters are also bullish on the change. “Too many folks ‘living for the ‘Gram’… If you genuinely love what you do, you’ll do it regardless of whether Instagram likes are public or not,” music journalist Sowmya Krishnamurthy wrote on Twitter.
And Wired editor-in-chief Nick Thompson weighed in, tweeting, “Personally, I think this is great. Makes Instagram less like a stressful video game, particularly for kids.”
Meanwhile, some support the feature but think it should be optional. “Instagram should give you the choice to hide your likes if you would like to,” but “the app shouldn’t force you to do it,” wrote Skai Jackson, an actress, activist and author.
Note that Instagram’s U.S. test to hide likes isn’t a brand-new concept. It began testing private likes earlier this year in Canada and has broadened it to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. The photo- and video-sharing platform also can tap into Facebook’s work in this area, Mosseri pointed out: In September, Facebook announced plans to test hidden like counts within its core Facebook app, starting with users in Australia.
When internet platforms introduce design changes of any scope, a certain portion of the user base inevitably rebels. That’s why Instagram is trying to soften the blow by calling the move to disable like counts a “test,” to get people accustomed to the change.
However, such modifications are frequently accepted — whether begrudgingly, enthusiastically or indifferently — as time passes. In 2016, for example, Instagram switched users’ feeds from chronological to an algorithmically sorted presentation — prompting a Change.org petition demanding that Instagram keep posts in chronological order, ultimately signed by 343,000 people. Later that same year, Instagram changed its logo, which led to “The Great Instagram Logo Freakout of 2016,” per the New York Times.
Today, how many of Instagram’s 1 billion-plus monthly active users even remember those controversies?
Chances are, any unhappiness over IG’s like-hiding will flutter into the same dustbin of history. But whether the move sticks boils down to the bottom line. If hiding public likes results in a positive reaction, as Mosseri & Co. theorize — and ultimately leads to higher engagement on the platform — then it will become a standard part of the Instagram experience.