In the test run, which will roll out in Canada this week, the Facebook-owned site will display user posts as it would normally, but people scrolling through the feed won’t see like counts. Account owners will still be able to check the tallies on their own photos and videos by clicking through a prompt.
Mosseri said the experiment is part of a broader effort to rethink the fundamentals of how Instagram works and create a more welcoming experience. The company also is testing a redesigned profile page that de-emphasizes follower counts. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition, we want to make it a less pressurized environment,” he said.
The psychological drawbacks of social media use have gained more attention in recent years, with parents, consumer advocates and even tech companies pointing to its potential to increase anxiety and social isolation. Technologists also have taken issue with popular social media platforms that place engagement metrics at center stage, encouraging users to maximize those figures by spending more time on the site and perpetuating a feedback loop of notifications and social validation.
Though shielding like counts might curtail strategic efforts to punch up engagement numbers on Instagram, other troublesome aspects like social exclusion won’t be addressed with the change, said Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California with expertise in social media and psychology. Young people might still feel left out, or worse, if they see their friends posting from parties and other social events without them, and then read the comments that follow. Neither is directly tied to likes, she said.
Hiding the counts could potentially introduce new problems for users, such as diminishing the feeling of camaraderie from liking a popular post tied to a social cause or a massive in-joke. “While we can focus on the negative side of comparing likes, it is also true that people enjoy the game of supporting a post, a friend or an influencer,” she said.
Instagram isn’t alone in trying to tamp down on the seemingly endless quest for likes and new followers. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said last week that if he could build his social network anew, he would rethink its emphasis on likes and retweets as markers of success. In a prototype of the Twitter app, dubbed twttr, the company is experimenting with removing like and retweet counts by default. Unlike the current version of Twitter, which displays those figures for each post, the beta app only shows the metrics when a user taps the tweet.
The Instagram experiment comes as Facebook prepares to update its entire suite of apps. People will soon be able to communicate using Messenger on their desktops, and the company has plans for users to chat with each other across all of its services. Facebook’s famed namesake app also is set for a redesign, with the service orienting itself away from the news feed and toward groups and private messages.