New York — Keenan Villareal, a Towson, Md. college student, has worked hard to attract his 64,000 Instagram followers. Now, he’s worried the social media platform will lose popularity altogether and he’ll miss out on potential sponsorship deals that come along with being an influencer.
At the Facebook F8 Developers Conference in San Francisco last month, Instagram announced that it will begin testing a feature that hides the total like count on each post. The experiment comes at a moment when Instagram is looking to make itself less of a “pressurized” environment and fight bullying on the platform — especially affecting young people.
Account owners would be able to see how many people liked their photos, but those numbers would no longer be public. Tests for the new feature start in Canada. There’s no timeline for when or if the update will launch in the United States.
Villareal, 23, is convinced removing like counts will make people stop using the app. He’s especially concerned about the effect on influencers.
“Once people see that liking photos leads to nothing at all, people will stop liking, and the app will soon join MySpace in social media heaven,” he said. “Those of us that have large followings have worked hard to do so. Many that influence or promote for income will be affected by the lack of engagement that’s both occurring and shown on given posts.”
Reactions to the proposed change depend on how people use the app in the context of their lives.
“Instagram, regardless of its origins, isn’t about photography. It’s about social status and making a statement,” said Inaya Ahmed, a high school junior from New Jersey. “If they removed likes, I think people will move away from Instagram because so much of it has become social validation.”
Instagram says the point is to decrease the focus on likes.
“We want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” Seine Kim, an Instagram spokesperson, said in an email.
The company is predicting the opposite of what Villareal and Ahmed are foreseeing — that the update “will ultimately drive deeper engagement,” Kim wrote.
The Instagram “private like counts” feature could have a big impact on mental health. Thirty-seven percent of teens said they felt pressure to post content that will get a lot of likes and 26 percent said social media can make them feel worse about their lives, according to a November 2018 study conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Sam Hastings, a New Jersey high school senior, said he deletes a lot of his photos if they don’t receive enough likes. If the likes become private, Hastings assumes he might post more content.
“I believe that it is a good way to lessen the obsession teens and young adults have with the stigma of getting enough likes and feeling validation,” he said. “It will have such a positive effect on my mental health personally because I will be a lot less stressed and obsessed over the likes it receives.”