Rossy: Instagram’s removal of likes draws attention to engagement and mental health

Aura Rossy, Copy Editor

If you’ve recently scrolled through your Instagram feed, you may have noticed the app is testing out an update—the elimination of the visible number of likes posts receive. This followed the app’s other recent update—removing its Following Activity feature, where you could see the recent activity of your followers. The latter, as claimed by the platform, was removed due to its invisibility and insufficient use by members of the community. The former, a much more noticeable update for users, has stirred questions surrounding its purpose as well as the impact it will have on influencers.

You may be one of those Instagrammers who can relate to obsessive thinking about whether or not a picture is good enough to post or if the image will receive the number of likes you would like. Such instances of doubt often drive users to avoid posting content with which they fully resonate. Picture this other disappointing scenario: You and a friend take only one good picture at an event, so you both resort to double posting. Despite the pictures being exactly the same, save for some possible minor editing or filter choices, your friend gets significantly more likes.

Though all these instances are minor in the grand scheme of things, they tend to add up in the minds of users constantly connected to social media. A notably historic moment for the “like” feature was when it was introduced to Facebook in 2009. While this was not the first time this feature was used on a social media platform, it was a monumental moment, as this was the third feature (in addition to the newsfeed and social graph) that completed the powerhouse that became Facebook. Although the like acts by reducing a human response to content to a single action, it contributes valuable, analyzable data surrounding user engagement.

Though the number of likes on people’s posts is no longer visible, the individual posting can still view the number of likes his or her personal posts have gotten. Based on the other feature that had been removed, Following Activity, minor changes should be expected in terms of user engagement. Reflecting on my personal social media habits, the main feature that prevented people from engaging with posts was Following Activity as their followers could see their recently liked posts.

This change in engagement mechanisms is concerning for the many people who use Instagram as a form of income, whether directly or indirectly. Since influencers will continue to have private access to their metrics and data, they should be able to share this information with companies with little interference. However, there may be an issue regarding instances when companies reach out to individuals through the platform based on their engagement on posts. In this case, companies will have to take a different approach, which may result in a more lengthy process through which metrics are shared privately between the two parties.

The other hot topic for debate with the removal of likes is whether this is the right approach to tackling the massive problem of mental health in the social media sphere. I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I noticed a “friend” of mine share an article announcing Instagram’s update. They accompanied the article by sharing their opinion, which was that this incentive by Instagram is only putting a bandaid on the larger issue. I got the overall impression that this person found the update pointless.

Although more comprehensive problems surrounding mental health still remain to be tackled, I don’t disregard this effort as meaningless or insignificant. Rather, I see it as a small step in the right direction. In a society that is more prone to comparison than ever before due to our unyielding attachment to our devices, this effort addresses one of the most explicit ways our minds work in comparing ourselves to others—through numbers.