The news of Instagram's plan to start testing hidden like counts this week has been nothing short of divisive. The change, which Head Of Instagram Adam Mosseri says is intended to make the app a less pressurised and competitive environment, has been embraced by many who see it as positive for user mental health, while it has simultaneously invoked the ire of several celebrities and creators who rely on visible metrics like like count to grow their brands and reach. Nicki Minaj threatened to boycott the app, citing the change as a way of undermining the power of independent artists, and Cardi B jumped in as well, arguing that comment likes and replies are the real offenders when it comes to negative mental health caused by the app — not displayed like counts. Kim Kardashian, though, supports the decision despite her 151 million user count, calling it "beneficial" for users.
The consensus amongst everyday users reflects a tone similar to Kardashian's. In a Refinery29 poll of 36 readers, almost everyone answered that they feel this change will positively impact their experience on the app. Zoe, a 22-year-old student, replied that "it's embarrassing how soul-crushing it is not getting whatever number of likes is deemed acceptable on a post," while Emily, a 24-year-old marketer, calls the change "one of the more progressive and counter-intuitive moves Instagram has made in awhile."
Leora, a 27-year-old in the publishing industry, says she thinks hiding likes will definitely improve mental health across the board: "Instagram's competitive liking mentality started to remind me of Myspace's Top 8 (which caused SEVERE middle school drama), and I think that eliminating this part of the app to focus entirely on the actual content can only improve on user experiences."
But for influencers, the impact might be felt even more strongly — and not necessarily in a positive way. Like count is a crucial metric by which influencers can quantify follower engagement and broker deals with brands — and when visible to others, can contribute to clout and perceived popularity.
"Vanity metrics or not, Instagram likes have been the influencer validation gold standard for years, and removing them will be a major inflection point in the industry," said Matt Zuvella, cofounder and VP of Marketing at FamePick, a platform that provides business tools for influencers. "Creators will face a steeper uphill battle to differentiate themselves upon first impression. Brands need to know what type of audience is following, so creators will need to turn to third party platforms/tools to help showcase not only their work, but the audience metrics that now lie beneath the surface."
There's also the question of how this will impact brands themselves, many of which rely heavily on Instagram for brand awareness and might have to pivot their strategies toward a greater emphasis on quality of content, since virality can no longer depend on visible quantity of likes.
"While likes definitely give brands a certain level of legitimacy, removing them from all accounts will create a level playing field," said Ashley Fern, Director of Digital Content & Strategy at Betches, a media company with an Instagram that got its start as a meme account. "It will also likely reduce the mob mentality that causes some content to go viral, even if it’s not particularly high quality. Removing the pressure of likes will allow us and other brands to freely explore new types of feed content without worrying about a perceived flop."
Hidden like count, which has already rolled out in seven countries including Brazil, Japan, and Canada, is one of many moves on Mosseri's agenda to make Instagram a safer space for users — especially teens. Earlier this year, Instagram rolled out stricter restrictions against bullying and revamped blocking capabilities.
At Wired25 last week, Mosseri said of the change: "It's about young people. The idea is to try to depressurise Instagram — make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with the people that they love and the things that inspire them. We have to see how it affects how people feel about the platform, how it affects how they use the platform, how it affects the creator ecosystem."