Instagram Is Removing Your Likes, But Probably Not For the Reason They Claim


If you’ve been using Instagram lately, you may have been surprised when you scrolled through your feed that suddenly has no “like” in sight. Two weeks ago, the social media platform launched a global trial period during which the number of likes under posts will be hidden, a feature that already exists in a couple of other countries such as Australia, Japan, Canada and Brazil. If the trial is successful, then Instagram will make their decision to hide the like count permanent in the US as well. You’ll still be able to see how many likes your own posts get, but you won’t be able to see that number for other people’s posts.


Since likes are the prime currency of Instagram, you might be asking yourself: why? Instagram’s official answer to that question is simple: because we care about you! “We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” the company explained on Twitter. On first thought that actually sounds like a solid reason, especially since a 2017 study identified Instagram as the worst platform for your mental health, causing more stress and anxiety than any of the other social media networks. Therefore, the company’s decision to remove the like count under posts could be a step in the right direction and help create a more relaxed and joyful Instagram experience for everyone ... but is that really why they’re doing it?


One reason that makes Instagram’s mental health-related explanation of their decision seem insincere is that other popularity-quantifying factors, such as follower count and number of comments, will still be there for everyone to see. What does it matter that I can’t see how many likes someone’s post gets when I can see that they have 10,000 followers while I have 300? And as everyone who’s ever been online knows: the real toxic energy is always in the comments. Taking the number of likes out of the equation might seem like some kind of step into the right direction but ultimately it doesn’t change much. If other competitive metrics remain unchanged, you might ask yourself: what’s the point?


The point is, and always will be: money.


Here’s my opinion: when big corporations make huge changes to the way they operate, it’s never just about what’s best for their users or customers. They’re not charities; the main reason for making changes is therefore always about what’s best for the business. What users want might be a factor but, ultimately, it all comes down to cold hard cash. And the more you think about who is most affected by Instagram removing the like count, the more dubious the company’s “we care about your mental health!” explanation for their decision becomes.


Hiding the likes under post will make every user’s experience different, but the ones most affected by it will be influencers. These accounts have been making millions week after week through paid sponsorships that depend directly on how many likes their posts get. And, so far, Instagram as the platform that facilitates this (and it’s parent company, Facebook) has been getting no share of their profits. Call me cynical, but that seems like an issue that a billion-dollar corporation might be more interested in than their users’ mental wellbeing. Taking away the like count means taking away the number that influencers base their revenue on, and will leave those people in need for alternative ways to make money off social media. Therefore, Instagram’s decision to remove likes could open the door for the company to come up with new ways to connect brands and influencers - ways that make sure that this time, Instagram is also included on the payroll.


By all of this I’m not saying that removing the like count under Instagram posts can’t also have some positive mental health benefits for us as users. I’m just saying that their users’ mental health is not why they’re doing it. Removing the likes was always a business decision, no matter how much the company might try to convince us otherwise.