Disclaimer: Kimberly Jakharia is a friend of the writer.
When Kimberly Jakharia unlocked her phone to check Instagram, she was shocked to see that the app auto-updated with a new message in her feed, saying the number of likes on her posts would only be viewable by her. She scrolled down and saw the numbers were also not listed for other posts.
Early this year, Instagram began a test to make the total number of likes for posts private for Canadian users, and has since expanded to other countries like Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. It reached reached the United States on Nov. 14, and Jakharia happened to be randomly selected to be a tester for this new feature.
Hiding the total number of likes is because of increasing concerns that the platform is negatively affecting users’ mental health, especially among young people.
“The idea is try depressurizing Instagram, make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love and things that inspire them,” Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri stated in an interview with WIRED.
However, some, like Jakharia, are critical of the test.
“I don’t like it. I care about likes and take pride in the amount I get,” Jakharia stated. “I do think it’s good enough for others not being able to see the likes of other people, just not that great for yourself.”
Others have mixed feelings about the test.
“Personally, I find it a good thing since a lot of us are used to seeking validation off of likes they get,” said Serena Mohamed, another SPU student. “But I also feel like there should be an option for us to not see the likes we get on our own posts if we’re trying to teach that number of likes on a post don’t correlate to your worth as an individual.”
Personally, I think Instagram does have good intentions on why they want to remove likes, but it is ignoring that there are valid reasons why likes can matter. It can hurt the opportunities of creators who want to get their work to be known to the world.
Instagram has an algorithm that promotes the top posts in your feed based on what is currently popular or trending or how much likes and engagement they have. Smaller creators are more vulnerable and are more likely to be negatively affected by it. For example, as an artist with a small following on my art account, I struggle to bring my artwork to be noticed by others around the world while there are artists who have been using Instagram as a platform before the 2016 update of removing chronological posts.
The internet and social media have provided new opportunities to people around the world. As companies and employees using social media to network, they can browse through the platform and encounter people they can potentially hire.
But people are more likely to be interested in something if it is popular or relevant. Popularity can bring others to talk and spread the news.
While the number of likes will be hidden, Instagram has not removed the feature for users to comment on posts. This is good so people can be more engaging and expressive of their thoughts to a post varying from compliments to criticism.
But in an age of technology, where it’s common for people to have shorter attention spans and want to quickly move to the next thing, they usually “like” a post rather than leave a comment. Typing a full-fledged thought requires more energy than scrolling or tapping twice on a phone screen.
Hiding the numbers of likes from everyone is a step for Instagram to address the concerning issue of their platform affecting the mental health of the youth, who are more at risk due to their impressionability, sensitivity and inexperience. People who care very much about likes will overanalyze, asking questions like: Why are my posts not getting more likes? Is there is something wrong with my photo?
Some even delete their posts if it does not reach a certain number of likes. Others will buy Instagram likes or use an app that makes bots like their posts.
Caring about likes could lead users to reach unrealistic expectations by trying to look a certain way online. For example, if a girl posts photos of herself, but they don’t receive many likes, she may begin thinking of a strategy to gain more by using Facetune or heavily editing pictures to look “perfect” in physical looks.
Additionally, someone would be posting only what others want to see: always happy and smiling. This begins a cycle where others are resentful that the poster seems to have it all.
If hiding the number of likes on an Instagram becomes a completely permanent feature for all, there should be new studies conducted on the subjects’ mental health as a result of using that update. It would be interesting to compare with the results from previous research of when numbers were public.