Family, Kids & Relationships

Instagram’s Removal of ‘Like’ Counts Meant to Combat Anxiety, Depression In Kids

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At a conference last week, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced that like counts on the platform would be hidden for some users in the United States, starting this week. It’s a feature that’s already being rolled out to select audiences in seven other countries, including Brazil, Japan, and Canada. With private like counts, a user will be able to see how many times their own content has been liked, but no one else will be able to see that number. Mosseri said the goal is for users, particularly kids, to stop measuring their own value in terms of how many likes they get compared to others.

Social media can impact mental health.

Research has shown that digital media, like Instagram, can cause anxiety and depression in kids. These mental health issues stem from worries about not being connected enough to peers, as well as competitively comparing themselves to others. Not being able to see how many likes other users’ posts received — and knowing that no one can see theirs — could help alleviate some of this pressure.

Of course other aspects of social media can impact mental health, particularly bullying. Platforms need to get rid of hate speech, Mosseri asserted, and Instagram has been making moves in that direction with algorithms and filters designed to remove hateful or offensive content. “[Bullying] disproportionately affects young people. It has a lot of impact on those not only who are targets of bullying but who witness it. …We’re trying to lead on that issue,” Mosseri said.

The move is getting mixed reviews.

Of course, some Instagram users are not fans of the idea of testing private likes. Aside from people who crave the social feedback of immediate responses from their followers, others rely on like counts to curate content for brands, attract sponsors, or sell products.

Tracee Ellis Ross, star of the television show Black-ish, is one such user. She also spoke at the conference last week, and reports that most of the sales for her curly hair care company, Pattern Beauty, come from Instagram. Still, she supports the private likes test, even though she gets both emotional and financial satisfaction from posts with a high like count (or “high rollers,” as she laughingly calls them). “As much as I love a high roller, I think it has adverse effects,” she said. “And I think it creates a culture that isn’t helpful for well being, and isn’t fruitful for creative energy.”

Other popular celebrities aren’t so sure. Hip hop artist Cardi B took to Instagram to say that she thinks that the comments, not likes, are what contribute to negative feelings on the platform. And artist Nicki Minaj said on Twitter that she wouldn’t be posting to Instagram anymore, claiming the hidden likes prevent independent artists from proving how much fans enjoy their work.

Some teens, however, are on board. New data from the Pew Research Center indicates that 72 percent of teens use Instagram. And while many see several up-sides to social media use, 24 percent classify it as having a “mostly negative” effect. They cite issues like mental health problems, drama, and promoting “unrealistic views of others’ lives.” 

Mosseri knows that hiding likes may have a negative impact on Instagram as a business, but that’s not his main concern. “When we say [we put] people first…it means we’re gonna put a 15-year-old kid’s interests before a public figure’s interests,” he said. “The idea is to depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with the people that they love, the things that inspire them.” As he announced his demetrification plan to applause from hundreds of people at the conference, he talked about what really matters. “It’s about young people,” he said.

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.