Instagram today will begin a new test around hiding Like counts on users' posts, following its experiments in this area which first began in 2019. This time, however, Instagram is not enabling or disabling the feature for more users. Instead, it will begin to explore a new option where users get to decide what works best for them -- either choosing to see the Like counts on others' posts, or not. Users will also be able to turn off Like counts on their own posts, if they choose. Facebook additionally confirmed it will begin to test a similar experience on its own social network.
Instagram says tests involving Like counts were deprioritized after Covid-19 hit, as the company focused on other efforts needed to support its community. (Except for that brief period this March where Instagram accidentally hid Likes for more users due to a bug.)
The company says it's now revisiting the feedback it collected from users during the tests and found a wide range of opinions. Originally, the idea with hiding Like counts was about reducing the anxiety and embarrassment that surrounds posting content on the social network. That is, people would stress over whether their post would receive enough Likes to be deemed "popular." This problem was particularly difficult for Instagram's younger users, who care much more about what their peers think -- so much so that they would take down posts that didn't receive "enough" Likes.
In addition, the removal of Likes helped reduce the sort of herd mentality that drives people to like things that are already popular, as opposed to judging the content for themselves.
But during tests, not everyone agreed the removal of Likes was a change for the better. Some people said they still wanted to see Like counts so they could track what was trending and popular. The argument for keeping Likes was more prevalent among the influencer community, where creators used the metric in order to communicate their value to partners, like brands and advertisers. Here, lower engagement rates on posts could directly translate to lower earnings for these creators.
Both arguments for and against Likes have merit, which is why Instagram's latest test will put the choice back into users' own hands.
This new test will be enabled for a small percentage of users globally on Instagram, the company says.
If you've been opted in, you'll find a new option to hide the Likes from within the app's Settings. This will prevent you from seeing Likes on other people's posts as you scroll through your Instagram Feed. As a creator, you'll be able to hide Likes on a per-post basis via the three-dot "..." menu at the top. Even if Likes are disabled publicly, creators are still able to view Like counts and other engagements through analytics, just as they did before.
The tests on Facebook, which has also been testing Like count removals for some time, have not yet begun. Facebook tells TechCrunch those will roll out in the weeks ahead.
Making Like counts an choice may initially seem like it could help to address everyone's needs. But in reality, if the wider influencer community chooses to continue to use Likes as a currency that translates to popularity and job opportunities, then other users will continue to do the same.
Ultimately, communities themselves have to decide what sort of tone they want to set, preferably from the outset -- before you've attracted millions of users who will be angry when you later try to change course.
There's also a question as to whether social media users are really hungry for an "Like-free" safer space. For years we've seen startups focused on building an "anti-Instagram" of sorts, where they drop one or more Instagram features, like algorithmic feeds, Likes and other engagement mechanisms, such as Minutiae, Vero, Dayflash, Oggl, and now, newcomers like troubled Dispo, or under-the-radar Herd. But Instagram has yet to fail because of an anti-Instagram rival. If anything is a threat, it's a new type of social network entirely, like TikTok --where it should be noted getting Likes and engagements is still very important for creator success.
Instagram didn't say how long the new tests would last or if and when the features would roll out more broadly.
"We're testing this on Instagram to start, but we're also exploring a similar experience for Facebook. We will learn from this new small test and have more to share soon," a Facebook company spokesperson said.