Instagram freaked a whole lot of users out this week when it suddenly - and unintentionally - expanded its test of hidden post like counts to a lot more users.
We've been testing a new experience to hide likes on Feed posts. We unintentionally added more people to the test today, which was a bug — we’re fixing this issue and restoring like counts to those people as soon as possible.— Instagram Comms (@InstagramComms) March 3, 2021
Instagram has been testing hidden Like counts for some time, and while it has provided some insight into the results it's seen from its experiments, it clearly doesn't yet have all the data that it needs in order to make a call on the viability of the option.
Which is why it's still in testing - and today, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri has provided some more insight into the hidden likes project, and why it's still going, despite seemingly having run for the last year in some regions.
Live Rooms & Private Like Counts ????— Adam Mosseri ???? (@mosseri) March 5, 2021
This week we unintentionally launched private like counts to a lot of people, our apologies. The idea is clearly polarizing, so we’re looking for a way to bring the idea to people who want it and not to those who don’t.#thisweekoninstagram pic.twitter.com/aS0p4tkDfV
As Mosseri notes, the test has been re-prioritized again only recently because of disruptions due to COVID-19. That's why we saw the sudden expansion of hidden likes this week - which wasn't planned, and has since been rectified.
But it is part of the broader experiment, which, as Mosseri explains, is still ongoing.
"Clearly it's a very polarizing idea, so right now, what we're looking is, is there a way for us to bring private like counts to those who are interested in it and not those who aren't, so expect more from us on that in the next month or maybe two."
Instagram has actually been testing this option also - in January, app researcher Alessandro Paluzzi shared screenshots of his finding of a new option within Instagram's back-end code that would enable users to hide or unhide like counts on their posts.
So rather than simply not showing like counts at all, Instagram would give users the option to control this display.
Paluzzi also noted that users would be able to hide like counts on posts both within the composer when initially posting, and in retrospect. Instagram's additionally testing another setting which would enable users to hide like counts on other people's posts, as displayed within their app.
It's difficult to say whether this would be a positive or negative move for the app. For many, likes are a form of social currency, and there is a level of pressure to meet a certain standard among peers (which is what Instagram is working to reduce), but for others, it's a simple form of acknowledgment, while brands and marketers use likes as an indicator of performance, as do influencers and other creators. The loss of total like counts would have some impact on those processes - but then again research studies have shown that hiding total like counts can be beneficial for users, based on smaller-scale test scenarios.
But as of right now, Instagram hasn't made a call, so if losing your like counts spooked you this week, you can be assured that they're not going away permanently.
And even if Instagram does decide to make a change, it seems increasingly likely that it will give users the option to keep their like counts, if they wish.
According to Mosseri, we should have more on this soon.