Say it ain’t so: Is Instagram removing ‘likes’?

Admittedly, some of us might be well relieved.

Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of users around the world reported that ‘like’ counters had disappeared from their various posts across the millennial wasteland that is Instagram. In a near state of pandemonium, influencers and brands alike collectively scrambled in a sea of irrelevance to calculate the growth or decline of their fanbase.

For others, it was a time of introspection – of penance, of staring at oneself in the mirror and questioning just why such a small number might determine so much about one’s life in the first place.

Jokes aside, the very real disappearance of like counters from across Instagram did (briefly) supplant a worrying paradigm for brands and profiteers on the platform; for years, the presence of likes has been one of the main trajectories of calculating the performance of a post and, almost needless to say, is a commonly used targeting metric when establishing a paid advertisement on the service.

Instagram itself has previously announced experiments into removing like counters altogether – and thanks to what the company has now called a ‘bug’, thousands of users were left bereft of the metric earlier this week.

That future change is already present on video posts, wherein the general public is unable to see just how many likes your video might have gotten (except, of course, if one of their fellow followees/followers had already liked it) and can only see the total number of times a video has been played.

The tests are, apparently, a means for Instagram itself to explore a ‘healthier’ experience across the app and promote a user journey that does not prioritize the coveting of +1s, +2s, and +3s.

As CNET reports, Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing and psychology at New York University cited that “…the like button turned social media on its head – Each like is a proxy for social approval, so having a post with lots of likes places you higher on the social status ladder than does having fewer or — in the worst case, zero — likes.”

Instagram itself has not confirmed that likes might be fully removed in the near future, but the development does provide insight into the fact that, mistakenly or not, the company is actively testing the removal of likes altogether on a large scale.

Where to from here? A recent study from UCLA found that teens on Instagram were far more likely to ‘like’ or engage with a post if another friend already had; Instagram could pivot its user experience to instead highlight content that is frequented and engaged with by one’s own connections, rather than the total amount of times a broader pool of Instagram users had ‘liked’ a post.

The end result could be a far more cultured and cultivated user experience, which would have the benefit of scrapping the potential social harm that is internet adoration.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.