Instagram to eliminate likes, ‘depressurize’ experience on app

Imagine a world where people care less about popularity and more about authenticity. A world where people don’t care about how many likes you get on an Instagram post, but instead they care about the content in your post. As of this week, Instagram will begin to make that a reality.

On Friday, Nov. 8, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced at WIRED25 that the platform will begin testing select user accounts in the U.S. that will no longer be able to view the amount of likes on another person’s post. Users, however, will still be able to see the amount of likes on their own posts. It’s a feature that’s already been tested in seven other countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand.

“This is about young people,” Mosseri said during the panel. “The idea is to try to ‘depressurize’ Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”

Juan Mundel, an associate professor in the College of Communication at DePaul, was one of the social researchers invited to provide insight for Instagram about this feature.

“It’s finally time for this to start happening,” he said. “For many years now, we’ve noticed that users really pay attention to popularity. It not only reduces the desire to be original, but it can also trigger negative effects on someone’s self-esteem.”

Mundel also touched on the concept of social comparison, which the American Psychological Association defined in a 2014 report about social comparison, social media and self-esteem. “Humans are thought to possess a fundamental drive to compare themselves with others, which serves a variety of functions, such as fulfilling affiliation needs, evaluating the self, making decisions, being inspired and regulating emotions and well-being,” the report said.

While it’s easy to acknowledge the positive effects of getting rid of like counts, many argue that it hurts small businesses.

“What this also does is take away the markers of effectiveness,” Mundel said. “A lot of small businesses, such as influencers, depend on the amount of likes on their posts to properly advertise their product or image. Bigger businesses don’t necessarily have much to worry about because their budgets are much larger, thus giving them more room to market their product.”

In a study done by HyperAuditor, an Instagram and YouTube analytics company, influencers located in one of the seven countries where the test began saw their like count fall between 3 to 15 percent. Influencers saw the biggest loss of likes in the Brazilian market, where influencers with more than 5,000 followers saw a decrease of 15 percent in like counts.

“As a user, I think it’s really cool that they’re getting rid of likes because Instagram can really affect self-esteem,” said Aranxta Reyes, a junior at DePaul who actively uses Instagram. “But I think it’s important to also acknowledge that this harms our ability to measure engagement.”

Lavonn Ackerman, a senior PRAD major at DePaul, agrees.

“It’s hard to believe that Instagram is doing this to help boost self-esteem,” he said. “People will compare themselves to others regardless. In general, the cons outweigh the pros because small business will be negatively impacted the most.”

Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, also began experimenting with removing like counts on posts in September.