After working on the option over the past few months, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri has now officially confirmed the launch of a new test that will enable IG users to choose whether they display post Like counts or not within the app.
As outlined by Mosseri:
"Last year we started hiding like counts for a small group of people to see if it lessens some pressure when posting to Instagram. Some found this helpful and some still wanted to see like counts, in particular to track what’s popular. So we’re testing a new option that lets you decide the experience that’s best for you – whether that’s choosing not to see like counts on anyone else’s posts, turning them off for your own posts, or keeping the original experience."
Instagram actually began hiding post like counts two years ago, in a series of tests across various regions. Instagram hasn't published the results of those experiments, but Mosseri recently explained that the project had been de-prioritized due to COVID-19, and has only recently been re-awakened once again.
As noted, Instagram has been working on these new options for some time. Back 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 like counts on their posts, if they so wanted.
Paluzzi also noted that users would be able to hide like counts on posts both within the composer when initially posting, and in retrospect, while there would also be an option to hide like counts on other people's posts, as displayed within their app.
It seems that this is exactly what Instagram is now going with new, with Mosseri confirming the three alternatives that will be made available:
- Hiding Like counts on other people's posts
- Switching off Like counts on your own posts
- Keeping full Like counts in the app
Mosseri hasn't confirmed the scope of the test, nor which regions will get access, but has said that they'll provide more info soon.
And interestingly, Mosseri also notes that they're looking to test the same on Facebook.
Facebook was, at one stage, also part of the initial hidden like counts test, which saw some users get an Instagram-like listing that removed numerics from post display.
It seems that Facebook users will also soon regain that capacity, which could help to reduce pressure over vanity metrics, or remove your capacity to see how popular a post is, depending on your perspective.
But will it work? Will it help to provide relief from online performance pressures that can drive the wrong incentives for social media engagement?
It is, of course, difficult to say. For many, likes are a form of social currency, and there's definitely a level of pressure to meet a certain standard among peers. A key example, and concern, on this front would be the rise of Instagram models, whose heavily edited selfie images can present a skewed, and unhealthy view of what people should look like, and what beauty should be.
A recent, high-profile example on this front was reality TV star Khloe Kardashian's efforts to get an unedited photo of herself removed from the internet because it did not look like the regular, heavily glossed version of her image she presents online.
The rise of more readily accessible visual effects and filters has changed how many portray themselves online, and that, it could be argued, is incentivized by the race for post Likes, and a desire to get those hearts.
But at the same time, for others, a Like is a simple form of acknowledgment - while brands and marketers also use Likes as an indicator of performance, as do influencers and other creators.
Removing like counts outright 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.
Given the various considerations, making the Like count display optional does make sense, while giving individual users to capacity to hide Like counts for all posts could also have a positive impact. That is, of course, if people use it.
Past experience suggests that most users don't bother to enable such options, even when they are available, which is why hiding them overall may have been the most effective approach, in a broader sense. But still, Instagram is working to provide more control to users, and in that respect, this may be a better way to go.
Or it may dilute the results entirely, forcing Mosseri and Co. back to the drawing board once again.
Either way, it's interesting to see the gradual push back against social metrics that can incentivize unhealthy behaviors. Back in 2019, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey voiced his concerns about the impact of follower and Like counts on user behaviors, noting that:
“If I had to start the service again, I probably would not emphasize the follower count as much. I would not emphasize the ‘like’ count as much. I don’t think I would even create ‘like’ in the first place because it doesn’t actually push what we believe now to be the most important thing, which is healthy contribution back to the network.”
That insight, from somebody who's been at the forefront of the rise of social media, reinforces one of the key concerns of the medium, that its emphasis on such metrics, and using those elements to boost engagement, has actually had an unhealthy impact on social behaviors. One could additionally argue that the race for such has incentivized more divisive, argumentative opinions, which has deepened societal divides.
For a medium designed to maximize connection, it, in many respects, appears to have done the opposite. From that perspective, Like counts have played a key role, and while people may like them, and enjoy collecting these notes of acknowledgment, it'd be interesting to see how Instagram's data reflects the full impacts of such, and what it's found in its various tests.