Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced that beginning next week, the platform will pilot an initiative in parts of the U.S. that disables users’ ability to see “likes” on other people’s posts.
According to Mosseri, this initiative is an effort to make Instagram healthier for its users.
“The idea is to try depressurizing Instagram — make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them,” Mosseri said at a Wired Conference on Nov. 8.
The dialogue around social media and personal wellbeing is not new. Ever since its emergence, social media has been criticized for its tendency to amplify social pressures and anxieties.
In 2018, Brenda K. Wiederhold, editor in chief of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking wrote an article about the relationship between Instagram and teenagers’ self-perception.
“The pressure to receive likes, comments and followers can culminate in high anxiety and social pressures,” Wiederhold said. “In fact, a person’s Instagram account may one day be used to detect early signs of mental illness accurately.”
The link between social media and personal dissatisfaction and distress goes beyond the scientific realm and into the public sphere.
On November 4, just two days before Instagram announced its U.S. pilot program, Kim Kardashian West, who has 151 million Instagram followers, commented at the New York Times conference on how her friends were negatively affected by social media.
The star mentioned Instagram’s inner conversations about changing the “like” feature and voiced her support.
“As far as mental health, I think taking the likes away and taking that aspect away from it would be really beneficial for people,” Kardashian said. “I know that Instagram’s team…is taking it really seriously and that makes me happy.”
Recent BYU graduate and Instagram user Riley Hale agreed that taking away the ability to see “likes” could improve users’ sense of self.
“I think it will help get rid of, or at least help mitigate, our toxic culture of comparison,” she said. “It’s neat to see a company distance itself from one of its key features.”
Conversely, some Instagram users say this feature change won’t affect their overall experience.
Fifteen-year-old Truman Van Cott, who runs a political Instagram account, said he uses likes to gauge audience interest, not to compare his number of likes to other accounts.
“I think the main point of likes has always been for the person who posted to see the results,” Van Cott said. “I like being able to see which posts are more engaging, but I find it unnecessary for other people to see.”
This pilot test of removing the like feature will largely determine if the feature change becomes universal.
“We have to see how it affects how people feel about the platform,” Mosseri said. “How it affects how they use the platform, and how it affects the creator ecosystem — but I’m spending a lot of time on it personally.”