Instagram | Hiding likes is not for mental health, experts say

Instagram | Hiding likes is not for mental health, experts say

Among some changes seen on Instagram in 2019, one of the ones that caught the most attention and generated controversy was the concealment of the likes. According to the company controlled by Facebook, this could help in people's behavior and help combat bullying and diseases related to social behavior.

Some experts, however, do not think that Instagram's attitude, no matter how it has an effect on people – especially young people – is surrounded by genuine intent. While social network director Adam Mosseri said hiding the likes could reduce anxiety and stress from users, these professionals are skeptical of the company's main motivation.

"There may be a general tendency to recognize user welfare," says Ofir Turel, associate professor of information systems and decision sciences at California State University. But he notes that change can also be a matter of risk mitigation in the face of intense investigations and possible harassment, as Facebook has been in the spotlight for some time.

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A Facebook representative said the company is "testing private counts because we want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves. Our end result is not a motivating factor for the test."

Renee Engeln, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, was more emphatic in her "accusation":

"Hiding likes may be a positive step in improving users' mental health, but the change may not be motivated by the desire to care for users. I'd love to think it's because they care about everyone's mental health, but that's not We should never assume that these for-profit social media companies are seeking improvements for our own mental health. They are not in the business of taking care of us. They would not be selling our private data if that were the case. "

Not everyone will benefit

A concern among some profiles, especially influencers, and people who use Instagram for sales and other corporate activities, is hiding likes will lead to a drop in user engagement. Mosseri said Instagram "will make decisions that hurt business if they are good for people's well-being and health because they must be good for business in the long run."

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Likes are just part of this complex puzzle. For Engeln, Facebook and Instagram will be doing a lot more for people if they take more care in monitoring harmful posts than hiding likes:

"What Facebook and Instagram should consider if they really care about users' mental well-being is whether they are restricting the presence of harmful content, such as posts that promote unhealthy or unrealistic body image. Instagram's decision to prevent Underage see content promoting plastic surgery is a step in the right direction, but it is still a small drop inside a full bucket. "

Sophia Choukas-Bradley, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, says that hiding likes may reduce social comparison, but may not prevent people from worrying too much about their own appearance, as they can still see how many likes their own posts receive (although this number is hidden from other users).

Harassment and bullying measures

Another issue that Instagram and Facebook are likely to have to address more aggressively is bullying and harassment. According to the companies, between April and September millions of posts on both networks were removed for violating rules on hate speech, sexual activity and other offensive content. In July, Instagram launched an artificial intelligence feature that lets users know if they are about to post a harmful comment, and in October the platform released an anti-bullying feature called "Restrict," which lets users decide which comments can appear on your posts.

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It is unclear whether or how the removal of likes will affect the way people use Facebook and Instagram, but this is a theme that will surely appear more often in the coming months and years.