The popularity contest that spread far beyond the confines of a high school prom might be reeled back to its rightful parameters.
In a test that started in Canada and spread to, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Japan and New Zealand, Instagram is hiding its public “likes” count feature. Users in these countries will no longer be able to see how many likes a photo attracts. The person posting the photo will still see this information. It is unknown if or when the trial will expand to the U.S.
“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get,” a statement from Instagram explained. This bold move by the Facebook-owned platform is to encourage users to focus on interacting with the app instead of what other people think.
Prior to this action, the UK's Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement, cited Instagram as the app that most negatively affects young adults. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, decreased sleep quality and negative impact on body image were all linked to the site. Positive effects such as increased access to health information, the opportunity for self-expression and a feeling of community were also reported. However, the bad far outweighed the good.
Response by the public to the changes has for the most part been positive. There is a general hope that this could lead to a reduction in jealousy and competitiveness. Dr Helen Sharpe, a clinical psychologist specializing in adolescent mental health, told Vogue that its “likely to be a helpful step”, but pointed out that “likes” are just a part of the bigger problem that is social media’s impact on self esteem.
But not everyone is happy. Some influencers were worried about how this will affect their source of income. Mikaela Testa, a Melbourne based user with more than 44,000 followers, shared her frustration. In a post that has since been deleted, she followed an emotional video with ““If you think this is okay you can f*** off, it’s actually a sad day for those who have Instagram as a job.”
Advertisers were quick to note that “likes” is just one of the many measurements used in judging a potential endorser. An experienced brand promoter will ask to see a screenshot of insights which shows how people have interacted with the post via benchmarks such as impressions, reach and saves.
While it’s nice to think that such a giant corporation has its users best interests at heart, some suspect that this is a well-orchestrated attempt to increase profits.
Murmur's Dave Levett wrote that removing the likes feature will push more small businesses worldwide to advertise directly with Instagram, thus increasing ad revenue.
But let’s give Instagram the benefit of the doubt. There is much to be gained if it made its platform a more authentic, judgement-free zone that enables more meaningful interactions.
Instagram did not invent jealousy, so it won’t cure it, either. They can take away they likes, but not the content of a post which is often the greater source of discomfort. The skinny model, the perfect house, the wholesome marriage, will still be present with or without the number of likes underneath it.
For that we can only use our own common sense. Even what comes across as #reallife is still part of a curated feed. Everyone has their own set of challenges. The real solution is to focus on what’s important, try to be happy for others and appreciate what we have.
Life is more than just a pretty picture.