Some users of Instagram will notice as early as this week a subtle but significant change when they open the app: posts from other users will no longer display the number of “likes” they received.
The new feature, already implemented in seven countries, will be tested with an unspecified portion of the platform’s U.S. users beginning this week. At a recent conference, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said the goal is for users, particularly those who are younger than 18, to avoid measuring their self-worth by the number of “likes” on other people’s posts compared with their own.
The Facebook-owned social media platform serves as a teaching tool for many educators, who share photos of classroom activities, reminders for student assignments, and ideas for new projects. Millions of students, age 13 and up, also use the platform to communicate socially.
The specifics of Instagram’s changes have been difficult to parse so far. Upon hearing the news, one teacher told Education Week she was worried that she would no longer be able to look for new peers and colleagues to follow by scrolling a list of people who “liked” someone else’s photo. But a CNN report on the new feature’s rollout earlier this year in other countries confirms that only the number of “likes” will disappear, not the lists of users who “liked” a photo.
Critics of the current interface cite research showing that the app can lead to competitive anxiety and even depression for young users. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, an academic who founded the nonprofit Children and Screens, applauded Instagram’s new approach—and wants the platform to change even more aggressively by eliminating the number of “likes” altogether.
“We all know people who are on these platforms somewhat obsessively,” Hurst-Della Pietra said. "... We want them to focus on the content of what they’re sharing rather than how many likes they get.”
Eliminating all “like” counts might rile educators like Marsha McGuire, who teaches kindergarten at Franklin Elementary School in Cadillac, Mich., and runs a popular Instagram account, Differentiated Kindergarten. She said she uses her own “like” counts to gauge the content that resonates most with her nearly 20,000 followers.
“If a sensory table activity gets 200 likes but a fine motor idea gets 500, I might be more apt to find more fine motor activities to share,” she wrote in an email to Education Week.
Hurst-Della Pietra believes further study of Instagram’s effect on young users is warranted.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for positives on the social networks,” she said. “Like with all powerful tools that we have developed and that we continue to develop, we have to look carefully about the implications of the everyday use.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.