Instagram likes could disappear again

Instagram plans to further test the ability to hide like counts among its users, to see whether removing the potential source of popularity anxiety makes social networking a happier place. The company began a test in which users could hide the number of likes posts had received back in 2019, but now is expanding that experiment even further.

Users who are part of the test group will be able to set different visibility settings. While they'll still be able to see how many likes their own posts receive, they'll be able to turn off the public count of that number.

Alternatively, they'll be able to turn off public like counts on everyone's posts in their timeline. Finally, those selected will be able to leave the experience as it currently is, with public like counts.

It follows a surprise – and, according to Instagram, unintentionally broad – test earlier this year. Then, Instagram activated the hidden likes feature for a large number of people, prompting concerns that it was preparing to do away with the metric altogether. That was subsequently rolled back, but the social network has long argued that for some users the highly visible reception their postings get could be a negative not a positive.

That's especially the case among Instagram's younger users. Though the app's terms and conditions preclude it being used by those under the age of 13, there have nonetheless been concerns that young Instagrammers may find themselves chasing popularity on the app and even come to find it addictive.

Instagram is reportedly working on a version of the app for users under the age of 13. However there's no guarantee that it will release it, and it's possible that features such as likes along with direct messaging could be removed so as to protect younger users.

As with other Instagram experiments, there's no way to know who'll be included in the test group – or to request participation. The company says that it's also exploring ways to bring similar functionality to Facebook, again in tests, though has not detailed how that might work. One possibility is that the Facebook like and reaction count could be removed, allowing the post's author to see the response but hiding it from everyone else.