This article originally appeared on VICE Australia
As of today, Australian Instagram users will no longer be able to see the number of “likes” a person’s post has received. Instead, all posts will be footnoted with the name of one user who has liked it followed by the phrase “and others”. You'll be able to click through to bring up a list of those others—but, in an apparent bid to boost user experience, the numerical quantity will no longer be visible.
The update, which follows a similar feature that was rolled out to Canadian users in May, aims to “help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story”, Business Insider reports.
“We want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves,” said Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy Mia Garlick. “We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.”
Users will still be able to privately see how well their own posts have performed, however, and it’s understood that the update will not affect analytic tools such as ‘Insights’ and ‘Ad Manager’ that are frequently used by business on the platform to measure their account engagement.
Mia suggested that the company would look to introduce the feature globally, depending on its reception during this “test” period, stating that “we are now rolling the test out to Australia so we can learn more about how this can benefit people’s experiences on Instagram.” New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Italy, Ireland, are also now trialling the new format.
Speaking to the ABC’s Hack program, Mia further explained that the update was specifically aimed at taking the “competitive” nature and “pressure” out of the social media platform—in a move that will hopefully address some of its users' mental health concerns.
"We know that people come to Instagram to express themselves and to be creative and follow their passions. And we want to make sure it's not a competition," she said. "We want to make sure that people are not feeling like they should like a particular post because it's getting a lot of likes, and that they shouldn't feel like they sharing solely to get likes.
“We want to see if this actually improves the experience, and depressurises Instagram.”
Without knowing how much of an impact the update will actually have on user experience overall, it's a welcome move from a social media platform that's been roundly criticised for its negative effect on mental health. A 2017 survey by the United Kingdom's Royal Society for Public Health found that Instagram was the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing, with many users reporting high levels of anxiety and depression.
A lot of those harms were tied back to fairly predictable triggers such as bullying and FOMO. But the pressurised and competitive environment of Instagram, in which people are constantly chasing a number of likes and comparing their own engagement to others, undoubtedly contributes to the problem. Hopefully, something as simple as hiding a number will go some way towards alleviating some of that social media-induced malaise.
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