In a bid to shift user focus from engagement to content, Instagram is testing a new format that hides the likes from underneath images and videos uploaded to the platform.
The announcement was made at Facebook’s F8 developer’s conference, where it was revealed that Canada would be the first country to experience the app without visible likes counts. However, users will still be able to see how many likes their content has attained.
The motivation behind this shift is understood to be around encouraging healthy conversations within the platform, as part of a continuing effort made by the corporation to lessen the harm to mental health that has become associated with the app.
What are they doing about it?
During the F8 Keynote, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted that the fastest growing social media functions are centred on privacy; namely small messaging groups and story sharing. He pushed the idea that ‘the future is private’, and that he’s committed to delivering it in six key ways:
- Private Interactions
- Reduced Permanence
- Secure Data Storage
The recurring message throughout the keynote was that innovations are being tested to make Instagram ‘Feel like a place where you’re safe and supported’. They’ve systemically identified issues within the platform that they believe to be problematic, suggesting that they aspire to ‘Lead the fight against online bullying’.
As well as hiding likes counts, the app is testing a way to provide comment filters and nudges. For clarity, they denoted that ‘If you say something aggressive, maybe we give you a light nudge to rethink that’.
In addition, they’re looking at providing an ‘Away mode’ as a way to opt out of Instagram when you’re in a ‘sensitive moment’, such as a break up.
Throughout the keynote, speakers consistently attribute these potential changes to a shift that builds a ‘privacy focused vision’ through ‘Giving people ways of limiting those who are being aggressive towards them via Instagram’
We couldn’t help but compare his current thoughts on privacy to the ones he had this time last year…
The idea that positive reinforcement in the form of engagement can become addictive isn’t novel. Studies have shown how serotonin is released in the brain when we receive likes on our uploads – it makes us feel accepted, desired and appreciated. The buzz of receiving high volumes of affirmation in the form of likes is certainly one that users have been known to chase, and content creators often find themselves tailoring posts to fit the framework of what they believe will receive the highest levels of engagement rather than striving to create content that represents their most instinctive posting habits. This is one factor that the platform is endeavouring to change.
In the same way that Instagram recently began notifying users when they were scrolling through content that they’d already seen, Instagram’s developers endeavour to remove this aspect of the app which is damaging to users’ mental health.
The shift, which is currently being tested in Canada, will no doubt yield interesting results. If the platform sees positive growth within the testing timeframe the users will be in a position to gain a clearer understanding of which aspects of social media are harmful for their mental health. Given that users will still be able to see a list of likes on their content, they’ll still be in a position to monitor the performance of their own content.
However, they won’t be able to fixate on other accounts’ engagement levels, or concern themselves with how their engagement levels look to other Instagram users.
If this test proves successful as a means for improving Instagram users’ mental health, then there’s no doubt that Instagram will look at rolling it out as a permanent feature, as part of their campaign to be a pioneering force in the battle against bullying and poor mental health as a result of social media.
From a marketing perspective, this initially seems disastrous. Influencers rely on hordes of visible interaction in their content as a metric of their credibility, and brands build their reputation in a similar way.
However, there’s no denying the current over-saturation of both Instagram influencers and influencer fraud. In the absence of visible Instagram likes, influencers would find it difficult to seek out and share to new audiences through follower activity. In this way, the landscape of marketing on Instagram would change drastically, as individuals would be forced to build their brands in a more disconnected, aesthetically driven way.
Unable to track and report on their main metric, influencers could be forced to disregard any creative direction that they’ve assumed or developed on the basis of their likes count, which brings us to a few final thoughts.
Mental health is, of course, a priority. But we can’t help but draw on the company’s less than clean outlook on advertising in recent history. In Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he made it clear that his platforms rely on advertising revenue in order to operate. If influencer marketing starts to decline in feasibility and popularity as a result of this update, but the platform’s popularity remains the same, the advertising revenue for the corporation will soar.
Another celebrated point at the F8 Developers Conference was the upcoming move to shift Facebook messenger’s settings so that all conversations has end to end encryption, like WhatsApp. Which made us wonder how accessible our message data has been to the company over the last year. In his testimony last year, Zuckerberg also stipulated that the collection of personally identifiable information was necessary to inform ads on his platform, which would ultimately improve user experience.
If you fancy learning more about Zuckerberg and Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp’s thought on privacy, click here.