Instagram Tests Removal of Likes

Background:
Instagram has started hiding the number of Likes on posts in six countries: Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, following a successful trial in Canada. The expanded tests mean a user in these markets can’t see how many Likes a post has received but can still see the list of names of those who have Liked it. The originator of the content still sees the full ‘Like count’. The test is limited to six countries and there is no date for a global roll out.

Details and Implications:
The removal of the ‘Like count’ was announced at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in April 2019 and started testing this in May in Canada – a market that has continuously been used as a testing ground for updates.

In Canada, it was reported that users began posting more as they didn’t feel built-up anxiety they about how the post would perform. The Like-hiding experiments aim to help followers focus on the content of the photos and video that are shared rather than how many likes they get. Instagram gave users notification of the change in a banner pop-up.

In 2017, a Royal Society for Public Health report in the UK labelled Instagram: ‘the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health’. The removal of the ‘Like count’ addresses such broad social concerns and according to Instagram is intended to create: “a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.” Instagram has also implemented anti-bullying tool Restrict to filter abusive comments, in efforts to further make the platform a safer space.

Importantly, the removal of the Like count does not affect measurement tools for business, which will continue to see the people who liked the content they post. It is however, a step towards lessening the impact of fake influence (driven by bots etc) on the platform as it removes a key indicator to the public of the ‘influence’ of a post.

It is unclear what the repercussions will be for the influencers themselves. One possibility is that influencer content becomes more focused on engaging audiences versus just purely chasing Likes. An Australian Influencer, Ariella Nyssa commented: “since like count was hidden, I’ve been able to focus a lot more on what I really want to share. I’m not as focused on others’ popularity…”

Another implication is that new key performance indicators will need to be established and brands and influencers will be pushed to create better and more video content, especially videos for the Instagram Feed and Instagram Stories.

The biggest unknown and possibly the biggest impact is going to be what shifts in the collective mindset of Instagram users as the Like has been tied to reaffirming social bias such as in-group bias and favouritism. Will the change shift the psychology of crowds and community to create healthier environments and will other platforms follow Instagram’s lead?

Summary:
The insta-validation culture that research shows create issues for mental health and self-esteem could be coming to an end. Creating a “healthier environment” and stronger community is the driving force behind the removal of Likes in this widened test and Instagram is shifting towards becoming a community-based platform rather than one purely for fandom. Brands will have an opportunity to reinvigorate their connection to their communities and become inspirers through the content that they are creating for their followers.

Further Reading:
Instagram | AdAge | BBC | Huffington Post | Inverse | Health.com | CNET