Engagements against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower; picturesque travel photos; perfectly sculpted bodies; and faces brimming with unfettered joy—scroll, scroll, scroll until it hurts not only your thumb but your self-perception the same. What exacerbates the hurt is the number of likes others get in comparison to the likes that are peppered on your Instagram profile. Last month, Instagram announced that they would start hiding likes from users’ posts, a test they started rolling out in Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Ireland and New Zealand. Users can see the number of likes they receive for a post, but the likes will be hidden from their followers.
We’re currently running a test that hides the total number of likes and video views for some people in the following countries:— Instagram (@instagram) July 17, 2019
✅ New Zealand pic.twitter.com/2OdzpIUBka
According to a statement Instagram posted on Twitter, the Facebook-owned company wants “your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.” Most of us only post the glamorous highlight reels of our lives because it’s easier to do that than share the messy, run-of-the-mill aspects of our existence. It is not lost on any of us that no one’s life is perfect. We are fully aware of the fact that people share the glossy, untainted aspects of their lives. Yet, despite this awareness, we still want to believe that unblemished lives are within reach. Our time spent on Instagram causes some form of amnesia and we subconsciously wonder why our lives are so imperfect.
When gazing into the lives of those we follow on social media, not only do we compare our lives to theirs but we also compare the amount of attention and glorification their posts receive. There is a feverish obsession with Instagram likes—an obsession that warrants some form of inoculation—and the fewer likes one receives, the more rejected, unsought and unattractive one is likely to feel. Few seconds after we post something on Instagram, we go back to see how many people have given us that affirmative double-tap. Woe betide anyone who doesn’t garner the number of likes they believe their posts deserve; this sentiment is echoed in an article in Intelligencer—a news section of the New York magazine—which states: “Instagram, though tough to generalize, is more of a never-ending popularity contest…than it is a way to connect with people…”
With Instagram introducing this change, your followers won’t know how popular your post has become; perhaps this will somehow abate our obsession with likes. As noted in Intelligencer, “All of this is presumably to reduce the constant impulsive refreshing that users do in exchange for the occasional dopamine hit of a meaningless number going up.” However, for macro, micro and nano influencers, whose careers are driven by followers and likes, the number is far from meaningless because the greater the likes, the higher the earnings. While it is understandable why influencers would be worried about what this change means for them, it is highly unlikely that their careers will be gravely affected since they’ll still be able to see the number of likes their posts get; the onus will be on them to make a record of those metrics and present them to brands. Moreover, since the follower count is not hidden, brands will still be able to gauge the degree of influence a person has on Instagram. So relax, dear influencer, you gon’ be alright.
As pointed out by CNBC, “For influencers, or individuals who work with brands to promote services or products on social media, this will likely mean a continued shift away from vanity metrics—such as likes or follower counts—and a focus on actual sales.” The focus will now be more on the quality of the content that influencers produce. For influencers, it will be their Insta stories that brands will focus on more, since they will not be able to see the number of likes their posts receive. Research conducted in Canada, one of the countries in which the test was rolled out, revealed that the test has yielded positive results. “Influencer marketing agency Obviously conducted a survey of Canadian influencers after the Instagram “like” test started rolling out in Canada. Of the just over 100 influencers that answered, 62% said they were spending the same amount of time on content, and cited the test as a positive vote for high-quality content.”
Hiding likes is one way to help us develop the ability to endure delayed gratification. It will undoubtedly be uncomfortable at first—posting your best pictures and knowing that people will never know how many likes you got. You may be concerned with the fact that they won’t see your value, but that’s the challenge: to stop seeking approval from others and enjoy your life for what it is, as it is. By hiding the like counts of a post, Instagram is certainly making headway in managing our preoccupation with likes. If a user’s post received 15 likes, they won’t really be thinking about that number compared to someone else they follow, and that will ease the angst that comparison engenders. However, this doesn’t address the issue completely because the user will still be able to see their own likes. If only five people like your post, for instance, you might internalise that as “only five people like me.” So, the comparison problem is addressed, but the low self-perception issue will still be there.
If Instagram is really committed to making Instagram “a safe and supportive place” for users, they should consider removing the like function completely, which won’t happen and perhaps will defeat the purpose of the social app, but that may be the only way to make it a safe space.
There are varying opinions regarding Instagram’s decision to conceal users’ like counts. There are those who say it’s good because it will help us manage our mental health, and there are influencers who feel that it will have a negative impact on their income. Whatever your stance on the matter, it seems that Instagram is resolute in their decision. We’ll just have to sit back and watch how we are impacted by this change, mentally and socially, and see the extent to which influencer marketing is affected.
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Feldman, B (2019). Why Instagram Is Experimenting With Hiding Likes. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/07/why-instagram-is-experimenting-with-hiding-likes.html
Graham, M. (2019). As Instagram tests its ‘like’ ban, influencers will have to shift tactics to make money. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/19/what-instagram-hiding-likes-means-for-influencer-marketing.html
Instagram Info Centre. (2019). Changes to Our Account Disable Policy. Retrieved from https://instagram-press.com/blog/2019/07/18/changes-to-our-account-disable-policy/
Walton, A (2017). 6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/30/a-run-down-of-social-medias-effects-on-our-mental-health/#826b81b2e5af