Instagram’s test to remove the ‘like’ counter from feeds is good for eliminating the sense of it being one big popularity contest but it won’t stop people from worrying about how much love their posts get.
For as long as I can remember on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, there has been the opportunity to share your opinion about other people’s posts by giving it a ‘favourite’, a ‘love’ or a ‘like’. Facebook have even gone a step further recently, allowing people to react with laughter, anger, shock or sadness.
Though I wouldn’t exactly say I’m someone who craves attention, I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets excited to see the notification icon light up after sharing a picture or post on one of these platforms.
It’s dangerous to seek validation to an extreme extent – you shouldn’t have to rely on other people to feel good about yourself – but I’m always intrigued to see who has actively enjoyed looking at my content and how many people have taken the time to give it a double tap.
That’s why I, and many others, fear Instagram are missing a trick when it comes to their new trial.
Although the number of likes a post has won’t be visible on the news feed, the person who posted will still be able to see exactly how many of those little love hearts are rolling in.
We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get. You can still see your own likes by tapping on the list of people who've liked it, but your friends will not be able to see how many likes your post has received.
— Instagram (@instagram) July 17, 2019
The Facebook-owned platform initially launched the trial in Canada in May and has since been rolled out in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil.
According to BBC News, Mia Garlick, Head of Communications and Policy for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, explained in a statement, the goal is to help users feel less judged and see ‘whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story’.
We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.
The move is definitely one to be applauded; though it might be the downfall of social media influencers, there’s no doubt it will take the pressure off those who worry about being judged for the amount of likes they get.
Rather than showing the number of likes a photo has, the line simply reads ‘liked by [name] and others’.
However, the issue is not so much with Instagram itself but with the way people use the app.
Often users will only post their very best pictures, showing snapshots of a seemingly perfect life which in reality are only a small portion of their actual lives.
It’s a phenomenon Bailey Parnell, an expert in Marketing, Communications and Culture at Ryerson University, dubbed ‘The Highlight Reel’, which, when mixed with the Economy for Attention – in other words, the likes we trade as a social commodity – can effect almost anyone.
Take Pia Muehlenbeck, a fashion designer and entrepreneur with two million followers on Instagram, who generates 200-odd pictures to post the ‘perfect’ selfie and between 50 to 70GB of photos and videos a day when she’s working or travelling.
Speaking to UNILAD, Pia explained:
It’s very easy to get sucked in to the trap of believing that everything you see on someone’s Instagram is perfection. In reality, it’s a curated version of the best bits.
While social media, and Instagram, are just inanimate tools for human use, Parnell believes the way some of us use these platforms triggers four stressors which, ‘if left unchecked, can go onto to cause serious, diagnosable mental illness’.
Racking up hundreds of likes may have been a source of gratification for some people, as it was an indicator of just how many people were intrigued by, or envious of, the life portrayed through the photo.
As a result, the like counter allowed for a ‘my life is better than yours’ kind of narrative and so removing that aspect of the app could work to eliminate the idea of ‘competition’ which some associate with it.
The test has received some positive feedback; make-up artist and Instagram user Wendy Nguyen, from Sydney, Australia, spoke to UNILAD about her experience using the app without the like counter.
How will we all show off how popular we are anymore now that #Instagram won't show others how many likes we have.
— Mohamed Khairat (@khairatmk) July 18, 2019
Wendy, who has 151,000 followers, explained:
I am able to focus more on posting what I really love instead of content that I think will get more likes.
I feel like the pressure has reduced since I can’t easily see the amount of likes other accounts receive to compare (although if you view it on desktop you can still see other’s like count/view count).
It has definitely encouraged me to post more of whatever I want without worrying about whether it will get lots of likes or not. I’ve been guilty in the past of deleting a post if it didn’t receive enough likes.
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Fresh pastel hair thanks to my one and only @mojkahair! Got me all glam before the @maccosmeticsaustralia Studio Fix event today, I’m obsessed with Boldly Bare on the lips👄 ❤️ 📸: @mariayousif_ . . . . . #pastelhair #lavenderhair #mermaidhair #meccamaxima #meccabeautyjunkie #sephoraaus #maccosmetics #mac #studiofixfoundation #sydneysalon #sydneyhaircolourist #guytang #sephora #slaytheflatlay #vanities #instabeautyau #bbloggersau #makeupartist #pinkhair #hudabeauty #ausbeautybabes #makeupflatlay #beautyflatlay #wakeupandmakeup #wamfam #flowers
Favian Pua, from Japan, agreed, telling UNILAD Instagram’s test was ‘overdue’.
The user added:
For too long, Instagram created a ‘like’ stigma, where the purpose of posting photos and videos was only to receive the coveted double-tap. It had warped users into an unhealthy obsession of tracking how many followers (and complete strangers) liked their post.
This envy culture needed to come to an end. With the omission of the like count from the public eye, users can now curate their digital selves without having to seek external validation.
There’s no denying it’s a positive step, however, as long as the number of likes is evident to the user there will still be a sense of pressure surrounding Instagram posts.
Removing the counter may be enough for some but the fact people know their engagement numbers aren’t public won’t necessarily stop them wanting to show off their ‘best lives’ – especially because Instagram still acknowledges at least some people have liked the photo.
Some social media users are willing to go to extreme lengths in order to get the perfect photo, whether it’s by letting their food go cold while they get a drool-worthy snap, utilising lighting and angles for the ultimate selfie, or even leaning out of a moving train to impress followers, and it’s still clear to other users whether the post has received attention, potentially encouraging them to like it as well.
We’re looking forward to learning more about how this change might benefit everyone’s experience on Instagram.
— Instagram (@instagram) July 17, 2019
Personally, I’ve never been bothered about people seeing the amount of likes I had and so I’d be just as disappointed if my post got only one or two likes, regardless of if other people could see that or not. If the post got hundreds of likes – a number never before seen by my account – I’d be more excited.
There is widespread concern social media platforms can contribute to low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy and although the test may help prevent users from feeling inadequate in the eyes of other people it won’t necessarily help when it comes to their opinion of themselves.
Instagram user Henry Elder said the test was a ‘silly idea’, adding:
Regarding the likes counter that Instagram believes will remove stress or whatever, I think that’s a complete lie.
Other people took to social media to share their opinions on the trial, with many pointing out how the pressure remains due to the fact they can still see their own likes:
Instagram not letting others see how many likes is a waste of time because im sill gonna know how many likes my pic got and im still gonna bully myself until i get the amount of likes i want
— Ants in My Eyes Lico (@jlico24) July 18, 2019
Actually this is a very good point…. because the person who posts the photos is most affected by amount of likes, not my friends. And it seems I can still feel encouraged or discouraged because I can still see my own likes…
— Passports and Preemies (@PPreemies) July 20, 2019
i don’t see the point if the person themselves can still see their likes. is that not the issue. i don’t care if others can see my likes and what they think of them at all. if instagram wants us to stop obsessing over likes then shouldn’t they stop us being able to see our own🤷🏻♀️
— olivia (@Oliviacapetti) July 19, 2019
Other people have complained the trial will be bad for businesses who rely on the app, while some have suggested users will simply turn to their follower statistics as an indication of their online success.
Ramsey Selim, who runs a series of accounts under the popular ‘Unlimited’ travel brand umbrella, told UNILAD he ran a poll on his Instagram story and asked viewers to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with regards to the like counter being removed.
The result was a 50/50 split.
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Global travels for a couple of weeks. Back home in Edinburgh now for a short stop before our next adventure! 👣 . #petra 🌍 @earthfocus @agameoftones @top_world_shot @planet_locations @allbeauty_addiction @awesome.photographers @roamtheplanet @awesomeglobe #jameedjo @jameedmedia 🇯🇴 #jordan #visitjordan
Explaining the results, Ramsey said:
The Instagram likes counter is a double-sided coin. Some people don’t like to measure themselves, others like to measure themselves and follow their improvement.
The 50 per cent voting for the likes counter to be removed were predominantly people with a low follower base. So Instagram is helping them not feel like there is a mountain to climb so they can “get into” Instagram.
However, it is negatively affecting small businesses and influencers. Instagram will be flooded with fake accounts, because now the number of followers becomes the key indicator.
instagram removing likes is so??? like. people are gonna look for some sort of counter for validation AND GOD KNOWS IT’S THAT MUCH HARDER TO GET THAT FOLLOWER COUNT UP so much for lessening pressure???
— Venus in Converse (@allarica) July 19, 2019
hiding instagram likes isn’t doing shit for anyone’s mental health. if you make a post, you can still see how many likes it gets yourself. it’s also detrimental to businesses or creators using the app to find sponsors or collaborations.
— 🅱️enny (@benny___harris) July 18, 2019
Though removing the like counter has proved useful for some, the pressure surrounding posts will only be fully alleviated when people stop comparing themselves to others; an extremely difficult feat when we’re constantly surrounded by snapshots of lives which appear to be perfect.
The test is definitely a step in the right direction and it’s brilliant in the way it’s helped some feel more confident about their posts. However, I think the only way to fully take away the pressure of gaining approval on Instagram would be to remove the like counter altogether.
What do you think of the test? And how can Instagram tackle the very obvious problems it has on its hands as well as please all its diverse user base?
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.