The feature is optional — users can keep likes on their feeds the same — and the default settings will still publicly display the number of likes.
Giving people a choice to turn off a core feature that powers engagement and interaction on the sites has been something the companies have tossed around for nearly two years, carefully checking how much it affects how people use social media. Ultimately, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said, it came down to making sure people felt comfortable using the apps.
“We’re always trying to figure out the effects of what we build on people’s lives and we want to do what we can to minimize the bad and maximize the good,” Mosseri said on a call with reporters.
The features will roll out to everyone globally on both sites in the next several days.
Some people, even those that have worked on creating the sites, have become disillusioned with the way social media features can be designed to sap time. Some users have expressed concern that racking up likes and comparing posts to others made using the app stressful, rather than enjoyable.
That’s exactly what drove Northern Virginia resident and writer Brittney Devallon to toggle like counts off from her Instagram feed earlier this month when she was given the option as part of a test group.
“I consider myself a really confident person and I don’t really care about the comparison game,” she said. “But then I would see other people’s posts doing better than mine and kind of spiral into this thing, going to others’ page, seeing what do they have that I don’t have.”
The pressure got to be so much that Devallon jumped at a chance to turn it off. It’s been about two weeks now and she’s found that she actually uses Instagram more.
Mosseri said some people have engaged less online in tests with like counts shut off, and some have engaged more. Overall, the shifts have been insignificant, he said. He plans to turn off his own likes, at least for now.
Likes have become so integral to how people view social media, the response can be seen in our brains, said Ofir Turel, a professor of information systems and decision sciences at California State University at Fullerton.
“I view likes as modern currency,” he said. “Whenever we receive likes, it acts as a reward in our brain like any other reward.”
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, Turel noted. The issue with likes is the scale at which people interact with them, and when that becomes a competition.
“If you are engaging in social comparisons, and you are saying, ‘That person got 150 likes, and I only got three likes,’ the research has demonstrated that leads to negative mental health,” said Dar Meshi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University who studies how we process socially communicated information.
Instagram has been testing versions of hiding like counts since 2019, initially freaking out some users when it seemed like counts might get turned off for good. But the company, and its parent Facebook, landed on a more middling optional approach for everyone.
Professional influencers, who use social media to promote their brands and often make money by partnering with businesses, were some of the most outspoken against the plan to turn off like counts totally when it first popped up. Many influencers get paid by how many likes, views or comments they get, and completely getting rid of the metric could have drastically altered the industry.
The companies are also leaving metrics intact — no matter the users’ settings, people will still be able to like other posts, and users will be able to see the like counts on their own posts even if they choose not to make them public.
Many people don’t bother to change social media settings anyway, so it’s likely most people will leave like counts on as they scroll.
Letting people choose seems to be the best of both worlds, Instagram found.
“It’s a little strange to be mad that someone else has the option to do something that you don’t want to do yourself,” Mosseri said.
Still, he expects some angry messages in his DMs this week.