There has been a lot of research to suggest that social media is bad for users’ mental health. This is particularly true for Gen Z, who are exposed in higher quantities at a younger age compared to previous generations. Social media platforms are being asked to take more responsibility for their negative impact. As a result, Instagram swiftly announced that they will be hiding likes in an attempt to tackle the issue.

What does it mean to hide likes on Instagram?

Removing likes is arguably the biggest change that a social media platform has made to date. Likes were the cornerstone of Instagram’s functionality and are a major element of what makes the platform engaging. This doesn’t mean that they had the purest of intentions with the shift. It would be negligent not to acknowledge that Instagram is owned by Facebook, and Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company. IT operates as most large companies do —  to make money. Removing likes under the guise of concern for peoples’ mental health works as a great publicity stunt. However, there may be financial benefits for the platform, as well.

Influencer marketing is a growing industry that thrives on Instagram. Most influencer-savvy brands understand that followers are little more than a vanity metric; engagement is the best way to gauge how valuable an influencer’s audience is. Until now, Instagram hasn’t profited from brand deals that take place on the platform. These deals can reach millions of dollars. By hiding likes, Instagram creates a need for brands  —  accessing engagement statistics . Down the line, the platform will have the opportunity to give brands and agencies access to that data with a price tag attached. Instagram also has a feature that allows brands to place ad spend behind an influencer’s post. This gives the brand access to engagement data for the post, which is now more valuable than ever.

What about the creator?

This move can negatively impact influencers whose engagement levels are a major selling point for their account. But like with all careers, it is important to adapt to industry shifts in order to succeed. Some are beginning to focus on driving comments and shares for their content, and many now understand the importance of a media kit that breaks down their engagement and audience for brands looking to work with influencers.

The change, in context

As of yet, no other platform has announced such a major shift, although TikTok’s efforts with their Digital Wellbeing feature shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to major platforms working to positively impact mental health. TikTok has screen time management tools that allow users (or users’ parents) to set a time limit for the app. Using a unique in-app code makes it more effective for parents to monitor, as most phones’ built-in screen management tools use the same code as used to unlock the phone . That means kids already know the code and can get around it very easily.

TikTok has made user mental health a priority with in-app screen time management tools and Digital Wellbeing video reminders.

Anyone who has scrolled for a bit too long on TikTok has also encountered one of their many “Digital Wellbeing” videos, which let the viewer know that they’ve been scrolling for quite some time and recommend that they go outdoors. These reminders often come with recommendations for what they could do without their phone. This directly and boldly tells them to log-off, even though most social media platforms work to keep users on there for as long as possible in order to grow statistics, gather data and advertise more brands.

Instagram removing likes may or may not be to benefit users’ mental health. But ideally, the shift will positively impact the lives of users regardless of motivation. Going forward, it’s vital to push for social media platforms to work towards a mentally healthy experience, even if that involves less advertising dollars and multi-billionaires becoming simple millionaires.

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