In Depth

Why Instagram will no longer display number of likes

Social media giant hopes new feature will ease pressure on platform users to appear popular

Instagram has unveiled a new feature that hides the number of likes on photographs and videos posted by the social media platform’s users.

“We are testing this because we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” said Facebook, which owns the app, in a blog post ahead of the firm’s F8 developer conference in California on Tuesday. 

The new feature is being rolled out to Instagram users in Canada within the coming days, and confirms rumours that have circulated since technology blogger Jane Manchun Wong shared screenshots earlier this month showing a prototype version of the feature on a feed. 

The new feature means that while account owners can still see how many likes their posts get, their followers cannot.

Removing public-facing likes “could result in users posting more authentic content and feeling less pressure on the platform”, says CNN

But experts warn that the development is not a cure-all solution. 

“For teenagers, this is great because it would no longer highlight levels of popularity of themselves against other kids,” said Randi Priluck, a professor of marketing at New York’s Pace University. “But they’re still going to see their own likes. People are very driven by rewards so they’re still going to be competing for those likes. It’s not going to fully solve the problem.”

The Verge’s Ashley Carman argues that the company needs to go a step further and remove likes entirely. 

“Although likes can be mood-boosting and encouraging to users, they can also bring them down, especially if content doesn’t perform well”, Carman writes. “At the same time, likes can incentivise less interesting content and facilitate like-garnering posts, like nudity, food porn, and classic Instagram-bait scenes.”

Experts say Instagram has also failed to “address or fix some of the other factors that can impact the self-esteem of people on the platform, such as bullying, feeling left out or thinking other people’s lives are better or more glamorous than their own”, says CNN.

“None of that goes away when you take away likes,” said Karen North, a psychologist at the University of Southern California who specialises in social media. “Regardless if Instagram takes away likes, you can’t escape the inevitable that people will still compare their lives and feel inferior.”

A recent joint report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement looked at the impact of various social media platforms on mental health. Although “there were some positives about accessing health information, the opportunity for self-expression and a feeling of community, the negative factors were heavy”, says Forbes.

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