If you post a picture, and no one sees how many people liked it, does it still exist? Instagram users in the United States are going to find out next week. Months after the company tested hiding "like" counts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, Italy, and Brazil, CEO Adam Mosseri announced today at WIRED25 that some US Instagram users can expect their like counts to vanish from public view. The company will begin testing next week, at first rolling out the change to a limited number of accounts.
Instagram isn’t the only company that is attempting to remove publicly available engagement metrics from their platform. Facebook (which owns Instagram), YouTube, and Twitter have all experimented with removing engagement metrics from their platforms. As WIRED previously reported, social media researchers have argued that when users tailor their content to whatever garners the most engagement (or outrage), the result is a radicalized environment that makes healthy, happy conversations almost impossible.
Hiding like counts is just the latest step in Instagram’s quest to become the safest place on the internet, along with algorithms and filters to remove offensive or divisive comments or pictures. But the move hasn’t come without panicked pushback from users, who, among other complaints, note that hiding engagement metrics will make it harder to determine whose follower count is legitimate.
WIRED's Arielle Pardes talked to Mosseri and actor and producer Tracee Ellis Ross, perhaps best known for her starring role in the television series Black-ish, about why it’s important for social media platforms to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of the people who frequent them.
It’s still too early to gauge whether social media demetrication improves a user’s mental health or the quality of online discourse. If it does work, it could be an important step to bringing users back to platforms that they have been using less frequently or abandoning.