Instagram removing likes from photos in Canada in exploratory test

In a move that’s likely to enrage influencers, social media giant Instagram has announced it will be removing the total number of likes on photos and videos in Canada.

Later this week—the timeline remains unclear—Instagram will hide all likes from photos and videos that show up on the main feed, profiles, and permalinked pages. The likes will continued to be tallied, and will only appear to the original poster.

The decision was announced today by Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, ahead of its F-8 developer conference. A blog post from the company suggested that the aim of the test is to encourage followers to focus on the photos and videos that are shared, rather than the feedback they get.

The move mirrors the recent backlash heaped upon social media for contributing to mental health issues. According to a 2017 study from the U.K.’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent charity that seeks to improve people’s wellbeing, Instagram scored particularly badly for its effects on causing sleep deprivation, body image issues, and fear of missing out. The platform has also been criticized for its deliberately addictive design. Research shows that when teens receive a like on their photo, the same brain circuits are triggered as when a person takes cocaine or wins money. In addition, the platform is deliberately designed to draw individuals into “ludic loops”, or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation, and feedback, in order to keep people hooked.

Instagram is not the only social platform looking to place a greater focus on content rather than engagement. Earlier this year, Twitter released a prototype app that minimizes the number of likes and retweets in its interface. In order to see how many likes or retweets a post received in reply to a conversation, a person needs to click into each post individually.

It is unclear whether the app plans to test the scheme in countries other than Canada, or why Canada was selected for the controversial experiment. The company also stressed that the move is exploratory, and hiding likes won’t necessarily become a permanent feature.

The move closely follows of Instagram’s indication that it will focus much more heavily on e-commerce in the future. Starting next week, influencers will be able to tag specific products—right down to a particular shade of lipstick—in their photos. Users will then be able to tap the photo, see exactly the items an individual is wearing, and purchase the product without ever leaving the platform.

Article written by: Kate Wilson