November 22, 2019 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri announced that the platform is taking a new approach to popularity, hiding the total like counts to users across the United States. While the move won’t be implemented all at once, it will also not affect all users. 

This effort, which is part of an ongoing test carried out by Instagram since early 2019, ignited a fierce debate among social media users and experts. Some believe that Mosseri’s goal of “[depressurizing] Instagram, [making] it less of a competition” could negatively impact engagement and influencer marketing. 

However, some believe that the change is a healthy one, as it may put the social media network on the path of boosting — not sabotaging — free speech and creativity.

As Mosseri explained, he wants to “give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.” 

The test was first implemented in May, hiding some Canadian users’ public like counts on videos and photos. Instagram then expanded its program to other regions, impacting users in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Japan, and Brazil. So far, however, the firm has not produced enough data to help experts look at the real-world results of these changes. 

In a study published recently, influencer-marketing platform HypeAuditor found that despite the lack of data, it is clear that Instagram’s changes led to a considerable drop in the total “like” counts of influencer posts. Overall, this meant a drop in user activity surrounding these particular pages, but because the firm doesn’t have data on all users, it can’t say for certain that the platform is being used less frequently by everyone as a result. 

Should these trends reflect all users in the long run, naysayers might be vindicated. In any case, what we are seeing is less engagement surrounding big accounts and those that use Instagram as a marketing platform. If this continues to be the case, the change might actually be a step in the right direction. 

Letting Users Speak Their Minds

Platforms like Instagram and Facebook have long been criticized for favoring certain views over others, putting them at the center of a political war that is now being fought in Washington, D.C. Since then, however, social media platforms have made an effort to appear more inclusive, especially to those who lean right. The move to take the pressure off and curb the competition aspect of posting on Instagram may have something to do with making the platform less politically charged.

So far, Instagram hasn’t been the only one toying with the idea. 

Facebook already started to hide like counts in Australia, claiming that the goal of the test was to help boost the quality of the posts and get rid of the popularity-contest aspect present on the social media platform. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also been discussing the possibility of removing public likes from tweets for quite some time. 

Now that Instagram decided to cut what marketing strategists see as the foundation of their clients’ online success, the photo-centric platform is no longer catering to advertisers and the so-called influencers trying to use their popularity to sell products. In other words, those making a living using their online persona will have to find creative ways to stay relevant. 

In the meantime, Instagram goes back to how most social media platforms used to be, becoming a space where people can share images that speak to them and their followers and making the environment safer so that people can go back to speaking their minds. 

While we can’t estimate what the final results will look like, it will be interesting to see how Instagram handles the potential pushback from influencers. However, the fact that regular users don’t seem to be directly impacted might make it easier for the firm to gain popular support in the implementation process in America. 

As we’ve seen in Australia, where the experiment has been going on for several months, users claim that the changes haven’t been drastic. As a matter of fact, they say you can still click on the “and others” option under a post to see a list of people who’ve liked it. For users in general, the total like counts remain visible. 

If the changes remain irrelevant to everyday users and continue to impact only big-name accounts, then, perhaps, we might be able to elevate the debate and see more regular users succumbing to the pressures created by a heavily marketing-driven environment.

“Likes” Equate to Loyalties

But is the “popularity” contest that has become vanity platforms like Instagram contributing to the content experience? Or is it just introducing social pathologies? 

For example, with Instagram’s original “Following Activity” tab, it was easy to see what content your friends were liking, commenting, and following. While it was easy to discover new accounts and photos that way, the feature inadvertently pushed real-world rivalries into digital spaces. 

I remember instances when friends asked me why I would dare “follow” so-and-so and “like” their content. Even worse, it made for uncomfortable conversations:

“How come you’re not following back my dog’s Instagram page?”

“Don’t follow Susie. She’s SO dramatic.” 

“You liked my brother’s ex-girlfriend’s last five photos. Why?” 

Not only did this make me more aware of my lack of online privacy, but I found that I had to defend myself for doing what most of us do while waiting in line at the grocery store – mindlessly scrolling and liking on our social media apps.

Hiding likes might make our Instagram experience better than before – allowing us to be freer to like what we want while curbing social chaos.

Chloe Anagnos

Chloe Anagnos

Chloe Anagnos is a writer and digital marketer and has been an AIER contributor since 2017. Her work has been the subject of articles in FOX News, USA Today, CNN Money, and WIRED. She has been a writer, commentator, and panelist for media outlets around the country on subjects like political marketing, campaigning, and social media. Follow @ChloeAnagnos.

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