Why Instagram Removing Public Likes Won’t Solve the Platform’s Problems

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If a friend likes your post, but no one can see it, does the like even matter? Beginning this week, that hypothetical becomes a real issue. As early as today, Instagram will begin rolling out a new update: removing like counts from public view. Positioned as a “test,” the update won’t affect all users right away, but it could become a permanent update if early trials go well. And while users originally theorized that it could be an attempt to quell the power of influencers, it turns out that it’s mostly a measure meant to get all of us to stop comparing our damn selves to one another.

The move was announced Friday by head of Instagram Adam Mosseri at a Wired event. Already in effect in multiple other countries, the elimination of public likes is an attempt to shift Instagram from a popularity contest to an innocuous collection of your friends’ posts, with Mosseri citing the competitive pressures that have riddled the app for a while. You know, because if your dog gets fewer likes than your friends, it’s probably garbage. Just kidding. No dog is garbage, but apparently you could feel that way. Additionally, there have been studies (most putting the emphasis on teens) suggesting that attention to likes can affect the mental health of users, contributing to a decreased feeling of self-worth. Yikes.

But to recap, the hiding of likes will go as follows: Users can still like posts, see likes on their own posts, and comment. You just can’t see other people’s likes. And those metrics are still available to businesses who need them for reporting and research purposes (a.k.a., hiring influencers to push their brand). So really, likes aren’t going anywhere, as much as they’re just taking some private time.

While the removal of Instagram likes has the good intention of alleviating social media pressure, it also seems a bit… inconsequential. The very existence of likes continues to perpetuate an unhealthy need for approval and acceptance. A joint 2017 study from the AP and the University of Chicago indicated that around 15 percent of teens admitted to feeling a pressure to show “their best selves” on social media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the pressure stemmed simply from a comparison of like counts. In recent years, Hollywood stars have been forced off the platform for the hate messages received in comments, which indicates Instagram’s pressure issue runs deeper than tapping “like” and counting the total.

Users can still like posts, see likes on their own posts, and comment. You just can’t see other people’s likes.

The decision has been met with social media backlash, of course, including a comment from Cardi B, who suggested that Instagram’s real issue is with the comments section and not like counts. “This is just my opinion….I mean what makes you feel more insecure getting no likes or people constantly giving opinions about you, your life and topics?” she wrote. And as some have suggested, hiding likes doesn’t particularly mean that users won’t air their like counts manually via posts and stories.

In short, Instagram is just making it way harder for a user to flex their popularity. And when it comes to mental health and like measurements, it appears that the onus is going to be more on the user and less on the company who perpetuates “like culture.” A great first step? Remember this: No matter how many likes your IG post about your dog gets, know that he’s a very good boy who doesn’t need metrics to prove his worth.

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