Is Instagram Disabling ‘Like Count’ Feature for Everyone?
⏱ Reading Time: 6 minutes
Like button is one of the most valuable metrics on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The main purpose of likes is letting people know that their posts are appreciated.
However, likes have become so underrated that a picture of an egg holds the record for winning the most. So it may not be a coincidence of timing that they are under attack anyway.
Picture 1. The image shows a single egg on a plain white background. It has amassed more than 25 million likes since published
Likes turned social media into a popularity contest, taking the focus away from higher-quality posts and conversations. Although likes encourage users to share personal data in order to be likable, they are obviously demoralizing at times.
Getting Down To It
Instagram curates content based on likes and other users’ activities – preferences, comments, and profile visits. So, for instance, you can anticipate which ads is the user most likely going to click on.
Hence, likes encourage people to post and give them the incentive to publish content that performs. That can often result in posting less authentic content, like gorgeous landscapes, nudity, or thirst trap photos that aren’t thoughtful or the most interesting, but might garner likes.
According to a first-of-its-kind UCLA study that scanned teens’ brains while using social media:
The same brain circuits that are activated by winning money and eating chocolate are activated when teenagers see large numbers of likes on their own photos.
With this new concept in social media networking, only the person who posted a photo will be able to see the number of likes it’s received. This has more to do with preventing data collection and targeted advertising with regard to young users and less with any focus on the damaging effects of comparing numbers of likes.
It’s Getting Real
The whole fuss about banning likes first started with like limits on social media for an under-18s. The idea was to prevent exposure to the still-developing brain (pseudo-arbitrarily defined as under 18). After that age, that exposure is purely an informed decision by a consenting adult.
New rules were proposed by the UK’s data watchdog as part of its 16-point code of recommendations for age-appropriate design. The British Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) wants to ban these features in order to protect the privacy and safety of the youngest users on popular platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook.
Turning off the like function, and limiting data collection and geolocation tools on these platforms will require children to be given the highest privacy settings by default.
“We shouldn’t have to prevent our children from being able to use it, but we must demand that they are protected when they do. This code does that.”
Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner said.
The ICO says that apps should not:
- Show boxes where the YES button is much bigger than that for NO.
- Use language that presents a data-sharing option in a much more positive light than the alternative.
- Require more clicks to turn on the high-privacy option.
Picture 2. The ICO says nudge techniques like these encourage children to make poor privacy decisions
Their recommendations also include:
- Make high privacy settings the default.
- Make it clear if parental controls, such as activity-tracking, are being used.
- Introducing robust age verification checks on platforms or treat all users as if they are children.
- Provide bite-sized explanations in clear language about how users’ personal data is used.
- Switch location-tracking off by default after each session and make it obvious when it had been activated.
The platforms would be responsible for enforcing these rules. However, the ones that do not stick to the code could face fines of up to 4% of their global turnover, around $1.6bn for Facebook. This is expected to come into effect by 2020.
Getting On With It
At the F8 developer conference in April this year, Instagram announced that it’ll start testing a new feature in Canada. Likes will be hidden in the Feed, permalink pages and on profiles, and only the person who owns the account will be able to see how many likes their content received.
An unreleased feature that would publicly hide like counts was spotted by code hunter Jane Wong. An internal prototype showed the number of likes stripped away from a post. Instead, the mockup highlighted the name of a friend who liked a post.
Jane says the test states that Instagram wants followers to “focus on the photos and videos they share, not how many likes they get.”. Obviously, this would be a massive change in how the platform functions.
Additionally, at the TED conference in April, the team Twitter agreed. Namely, CEO Jack Dorsey said if he were to invent Twitter all over again, he wouldn’t have created likes again.
Video 1. Jack Dorsey is the CEO of Twitter, CEO & Chairman of Square, and a co-founder of both.
Likes are powerful little rewards. From a user perspective, it is the social part of social media. For those who use comparisons as a stick to beat themselves up with, this is a step in the right direction. So, they want to discourage the use of nudge techniques to try to keep under-18s online for longer.
How (in the World) Will We Get Over It?
Likes provide instant feedback about what is working and what is not. If you post on a particular subject, then this is what your audience wants more of.
Although likes can be mood-boosting and encouraging to users, they can also bring them down, especially if the content doesn’t perform well.
Hence the culture of validation is too deeply entrenched to be killed off. Even if Instagram’s internal prototype was rolled out widely, user behavior will adjust and find another way to express approval.
Taking away the little red heart does little to protect users.
If we can’t like, maybe we’ll comment with a heart or thumbs up. It’s such an ingrained part of the Instagram platform that it’s hard to imagine it ever going away. So, trailing an Instagram without likes is a small gesture that weakly waves at the problem, rather than doing very much to tackle it.
It’s unclear if Instagram will roll the test out more broadly, but we’re expecting huge changes, intended on making the platform more welcoming. We shall yet see the progress and new updates, but one is for sure – it’s not as dramatic as it sounds.
How about your impressions? Is Instagram a pleasant place for you? Can you imagine the social media world without likes?
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