Kitchener-Waterloo

Do you like this? How Instagram hiding likes could impact your social media use

Instagram has rolled out a new feature in Canada that hides the number of likes a photo gets. It could impact how users, including people who have built a business around their social media persona, use the app.

Instagram hiding ‘likes’ is a sign ‘they’re panicking’ over a bad reputation, professor says

Instagram is going to start hiding likes for Canadian users as part of a pilot project. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Beautiful watercolours and oils with the odd sprinkling of family photos and inspirational quotes — Stephanie Fehrenbach's Instagram account is all things beautiful.

With 23 thousand followers, the Waterloo, Ont., mother and artist uses the social media platform to connect with potential customers, aspiring painters and other artists.

She'll often get hundreds of likes on her photos, but with changes to Instagram, her followers won't be able to see just how many likes she has now.

Instagram is hiding "likes" on photos for some users in Canada as part of a pilot project.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, announced the change this week during F8, a Facebook developer conference.

"The owner can see how many people liked their photo, but only if they ask," Mosseri said during the keynote address, which was streamed on Facebook.

"It's because we want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they're getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people they care about."

Right now, Fehrenbach says she likes the idea.

Sometimes when she posts an image of a painting she's really proud of and it doesn't get as many likes as other images, it impacts her.

"It might make me feel bad about it or maybe I shouldn't do that anymore, where really, you need to follow your heart and your business," she said.

"You need to make your customers happy, but at the same time, you need to be confident in what you're doing and say, 'OK, I want to try this,' and not be so concerned always about the popularity contest of Instagram."

This screenshot of two CBC Instagram accounts shows the number of likes before the change and after. (CBC)

More control

University of Waterloo professor Aimée Morrison says hiding likes may be Instagram's response to people's "dysfunctional attachments" to social media.

Morrison has researched "digital humanity," including how people interact online and through social media platforms.

She says there's been lots of buzz recently about how to break up with your phone or how to do a digital detox.

"I think they're panicking," Morrison said.

"It was starting to get a lot of really bad press, and I think by walking back some of the most explicitly addictive qualities or features associated with the app, it's going to allow people maybe to get a little bit more perspective and control over how they use the app."

Morrison says for some of the younger users of Instagram, people in their teens and 20s, there's pressure to post often and like their friends' photos quickly. It's a new popularity contest, she says.

"There's a whole ecosystem of social status around who is liking, who is commenting, how many followers you have, how many people you follow, what your ratio is there," she said.

Harder to make things go viral

Sourov De is a managing partner at Stryve Digital Marketing in Kitchener. The company helps other companies with marketing projects, including on social media.

He sees the good and the bad. In one sense, something getting a lot of likes is the digital version of "nothing draws a crowd like a crowd," he said.

"When you take that element out of Instagram, getting that viral nature of a post, that may be a little more difficult," he said.

"Likes are way of giving social capital to something. You know, if you're helping someone build their like count, let's say it's a local business, people like seeing that like count go up, and it actually creates momentum for posts."

But, he says, there are downsides.

De recalled being on a trip when someone with him said they had to post a photo at a certain time so friends back home would see it just as they were waking up. The move was designed to maximize the number of likes they would get.

Look for the comments

Fehrenbach says she recently took a break from Instagram while getting ready for an art show and "it was really refreshing" to not worry about posting constantly.

"I think it would actually give us a little bit of a mental break that really need," she said. "It might be scary for people at first, but I think it might be a really good, positive change in the end."

She said while the likes are nice, they're also something people can do passively. For her, what gives her an even bigger boost of happiness is when people leave comments.

"They're not taking away comments and that's your real teller. Everyone scrolls so much that you can like without even really thinking," she said.

If people comment, you know they're impacted by something "and you're engaging with people in a nice way where it feels authentic and you're building connection."

Instagram has not said if the pilot will become permanent or how long the pilot will last. 

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