Does Instagram Have Ulterior Motives for Removing Like Counts on Posts?
Any huge change to a social media’s core practices is met with skepticism. When Facebook announced changes to its News Feed algorithm to discourage fake news, it angered some users who saw the move as an effort to silence certain political viewpoints. When Instagram did away with the chronological timeline, unhappy users argued that it was not, in fact, a way to prioritize quality content but rather a move to make the platform more addictive and encourage endless scrolling. With each new step comes a mountain of conspiracy theories on why the powers that be upended the familiar in favor of something new.
But maybe they’re not all conspiracy theories. There’s probably at least a little bit of truth behind each criticism.
In the latest major change to hit social media, Instagram has recently been experimenting with removing like counts from posts in certain countries, and of course, it’s been met with backlash from a vocal group of users. This is especially true for those who rely in some way on Instagram for their career. Brands argue that hiding the like count will hinder their ability to partner with Instagram creators because they’ll be unable to judge the quality of potential partners’ engagement metrics, and from the influencer point-of-view, they fear that potential partners will overlook them for opportunities if those brands are unable to see those metrics posted publicly.
Instagram itself, however, seems to be happy with the results, with the leaders of parent company Facebook even considering soon beginning to remove like counts from content posted on their platform.
So, with it seeming more and more probable that Instagram will do away with the like count completely, let’s take a look at the stated and unstated reasons for the change and what it may mean to the future of the platform.
Instagram’s Stated Reason for Removing Likes
According to Mark Zuckerburg during a recent keynote address, the people behind Instagram “want people to be less interested in how many likes a post gets and focus more on connecting with other people.”
After years of scrutiny regarding the role of social media on mental health, this could very well be the real primary motivation behind hiding like counts. After all, social media amplifies existing anxieties that people (mostly teens and young adults) have about popularity by putting a quantifiable metric on social status. Taking away the ability to see and compare likes could take away some of that stress, and it will also encourage users to post content that they want to post, rather than worrying about whether or not it’ll get likes.
Instagram’s Unstated Reasons for Removing Likes
Okay, so here’s where we get into some conspiracy theories. While the desire to help people use social media more responsibly is great, it’s not usually something you can sell to shareholders. That’s why some people think that Instagram’s motivations are less altruistic than they initially appear:
Conspiracy Theory #1: Removing Like Counts Takes Away Influencer Power and Encourages Brands to Spend More on Paid Advertising.
Brands find influencer partners by looking for high engagement metrics. While likes are just one part of that equation (comments and swipe up rates are more important), they are often the most visual metric of popularity. Hiding likes makes it harder for brands to find popular influencers and encourages them to use a more reliable advertising method (i.e. paid ads) to market their products. Basically, this theory posits that Instagram is out to skim some of the profits from influencers to make more money through their own advertising services.
Conspiracy Theory #2: Without Likes, Users Will be Encouraged to Comment Instead to Make Their Engagement More Visible. This Gives Facebook Inc. a Better Data Set to Use.
Social media is all about, yup, being social. Part of that is being able to see how your friends are engaging with content. If you take the focus away from likes, people will feel more inclined to comment on a post in order to show their engagement with it. From those comments, Facebook/Instagram can gain more information than a simple like.
Conspiracy Theory #3: Removing Likes Makes It Harder to Game the System with Bots.
All you have to do is type “Instagram likes” into Google search to see how many people are obsessed with getting more likes, to the point where some of the top results are from websites that allow users to buy social media likes. Fake likes mess with Instagram’s engagement algorithm and negatively impact the standard of content that users see. Removing those likes will de-emphasize their importance and hopefully, discourage people from gaming the system.
What’s the Real Reason?
Honestly, it’s hard to tell for sure, but the truth probably lies somewhere between the stated and unstated reasons above.
For me personally, I think that removing the like count on Instagram posts could be a positive thing for the platform overall. Too many people, both businesses and casual users, put too much stock in their number of likes.
Content creation is first and foremost about providing value to your followers. It’s not about how many likes you can rack up. Unfortunately, that lesson gets lost when people and businesses start creating content with the goal of appealing to the broadest possible audience in order to increase their vanity metrics. Think about it: Is what you’re posting really helping you form genuine connections and quality leads. Or is it just going to put more pressure on you to keep up a fake online persona?
For businesses, likes do matter, but comments and swipe-up rates are going to tell you a lot more in terms of what content actually converts. For casual users, social media shouldn’t be about comparing yourself to others and basing your self-worth on an arbitrary number. It should be about connecting and sharing the things that make you happy.
Maybe that sounds idealistic, but on the other hand, maybe removing likes will get us closer to that goal.