Instagram is expanding its test of a feature that hides public “Like” counts. The test began in Canada in April, and, starting Wednesday, added Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s still just an experiment, and Instagram hasn’t said whether it will come to the US, but this gradual implementation would be a pretty typical way of introducing a big change.
Instagram users in these countries can opt out of the test, but it’s on by default. “Likes” aren’t shown in any public part of the app, including on public-facing grids or on the main feed, but the person who posted an image can still see the “Like” count privately.
The test was announced at Facebook’s annual developer conference as a way to “reduce pressure” and help users “focus on the photos and videos [they] share, not how many likes they get.” The change is being presented as part of Instagram’s new focus on its app’s effects on mental health, a pivot that also includes a handful of anti-bullying measures (some more obviously useful than others) and emphasis on “digital well-being,” which mostly entails reducing screen time and limiting notifications.
rip to “instagram influencers” with the new update of hiding likes— julie (@julie_ui) July 18, 2019
The reaction to the test has mostly been concern for the livelihood of Instagram’s many influencers. After it was announced, Elle ran a piece titled “Instagram Is Experimenting With Hiding Likes, Which Would Make It Much Harder to Be an Influencer,” pointing out that brands care much more about hiring influencers with high engagement rates on their posts than they do about follower count. Marketing blogger Charles Tumotto Jackson argued that influencers would be fine — they would just pivot to a higher reliance on Instagram Stories, which is clearly the platform’s focus anyway. There, they can use the swipe-up feature to link directly to purchasing pages, and “everything becomes measurable and even more transparent than it used to be.”
Instagram has also taken a bunch of steps in the last year to make “influencer” a more official line of work, with rules and privileges granted by the platform itself. In December, it announced a limited rollout of Creator Accounts, which give hand-picked, high-profile influencers access to a more robust suite of analytics. In May, it made these accounts shoppable, so that individual influencers (starting with a group that included Kim Kardashian West, Gigi Hadid, Aimee Song, and several dozen others) could put product tags on their posts. These tags, previously available only to brands, allow followers to buy things from influencers without leaving the app. It’s all part of Instagram’s stated goal to turn the feed into a “personalized mall.” And malls, of course, are curated, and presided over by a governing body.
All of these changes make it harder to become a new influencer, but much more potentially profitable to continue being a successful one. These people won’t need public-facing “Likes” on their grids — they already have access to in-depth analytics behind the scenes.
And saying that hiding public “Likes” will dent the influencer industry is, frankly, giving Instagram too much credit. If the company really cared about removing the incentive to influence or freeing us from the urge to care about engagement and clout and competition, it would make the Followers and Following lists private too, stop announcing a new ad product every other week, and just become a less clunky Tumblr.
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