POLL — Number of likes is back on Instagram. Will you show or hide them?

CBC Kids News • Published 2021-06-17 06:00

Expert weighs in on pros and cons


To see or not to see? That’s the big question facing Instagram users far and wide.

On May 26, Instagram announced it was bringing back the option for users to see the number of likes on posts.

For the past two years, the platform has been experimenting with hiding like counts for some users.

Instagram said the goal was to see if the change would “depressurize people’s experience,” particularly for those who say visible social metrics can affect mental health.

So why is Instagram bringing the option back, and what do media experts say about the decision?

It’s all about control, says Instagram

In May 2019, Instagram started turning off like counts for some users around the world, including in Canada.

After two years of trials and talking to users and experts, Instagram concluded that “not seeing like counts was beneficial for some and annoying to others, particularly because people use like counts to get a sense for what’s trending or popular.”

Instagram users now have the ability to hide like counts for posts in their feed, as well as the option to hide like counts on their own posts so other users can’t see how many likes they get. (Image credit: Instagram)

In a blog posted on May 26, Instagram staff said that giving users the option to see or not see the number of likes is part of a wider effort to give “people control over their experience.”

This means that Canadian users will be able to turn on like counts again if they wish.

Other users — including some people in the U.S. — will be gaining the ability to turn like counts off for the very first time.

Expert weighs in

Matthew Johnson, director of education for a digital literacy organization based in Ottawa called MediaSmarts, told CBC Kids News that bringing back like counts may be good or bad, depending on the user.

He said it’s great news for influencers and content creators who rely on like counts to serve as social proof that their content is performing well.

It could also help them attract sponsors.

Matthew Johnson says that like counts can be positive for some and negative for others. (Image credit: MediaSmarts)

“Instagram is a business, and content creators need to be able to demonstrate to advertisers that their message is reaching a certain number of people.”

However, Johnson said that like counts can also have a negative impact on self-esteem for some, particularly those with small social circles in real life.

“If you’re seeing that everyone is getting hundreds of likes and you’re getting none, then the research shows that that does have a negative effect — or at least correlation — with your self-esteem and general happiness.”

Some reactions from TikTok users after seeing the notification that like counts were back on Instagram. (Image credit: @savi.elisee/TikTok, @tessahazel/TikTok, @nintendhoexoxo/TikTok)

Conversely, Johnson said that like counts can be positive for those with strong social circles in real life who see the metric as an affirmation of their support system.

What Instagram could’ve done better

Johnson said research shows that the default settings of an app set the tone for how an app should be used, and often people don’t bother to change their defaults.

Therefore, he said, it would be more valuable if Instagram made hiding likes the default.

Showing like counts should be something that users have to enable themselves, Johnson said.

Two tweets, one from a user who says they've been ready for likes to come back, another who is greatful for the option to turn them off

Some users who had their like counts turned off are welcoming the return of the feature, and some people who weren’t part of the test trials are thankful to finally have the option. (Image credit: @UnboundBrian/Twitter, @suptatianaxo/Twitter)

“That would provide the flexibility that platforms are saying people want,” Johnson said, while sending a message “that this experience is not about counting how much people like you or comparing yourself to others.”

Use the app authentically

Whether you turn likes off or on, Johnson said the most important thing is to not fall into the trap of presenting a false image of yourself just to get likes.

“Use it honestly,” he said. “It’s not about making the perfect image of ourselves online, but to be honest about our experiences and our lives, and to not fall into the comparison trap.”

So, what choice will you make? 

TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images, graphic design by Philip Street/CBC

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