Why Instagram Should Hide Follower Counts and Why It Never Will

Why Instagram Should Hide Follower Counts and Why It Never Will

Instagram appears to be in the process of rolling out a surprising change to its platform: hiding the number of times that a post has been liked. While the internet giant claims that it’s making the change in to help us focus on the thing we love, the truth is different. If it really wants to improve things, it should go one step further and hide follower counts too. You can be sure, however, that it never will.

In a statement released last week, Mia Garlick, director of policy for Facebook Australia and New Zealand announced that the intention is to “remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.” Suddenly, the platform wants users to "spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” according to Instagram's boss, Adam Mosseri. This would be an admirable move from Instagram, if it were true. 

Before we credit Instagram for demonstrating concern for users’ wellbeing, it’s prudent to ask what the platform has to gain from this move. As noted by Nic White in the Daily Mail, hiding likes will shift power away from influencers and steer brands back towards paid adverts. Without that precious like count under an image, there’s no immediate means of gauging a post’s success, robbing influencers of their metric of worth. Over the last couple of years, opportunistic influencers have tapped into the fact that audiences relate better to people than they relate to brands. These savvy personalities have effectively operated a platform within a platform, robbing Instagram of valuable revenue. Instagram has finally decided that it has had enough of Kylie Jenner charging $1 million for a single post and has resolved to take back some control — not to mention some of that revenue.

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Ultimately, if brands can't measure reach, and if influencers can't justify what they offer, companies will be nudged towards conventional adverts which are no longer undermined by low numbers of likes that make their products and services look lame to the average scroller. In short, influencers are made to seem less appealing, while adverts no longer appear quite so pathetic.

If Instagram were genuinely concerned with our enjoyment of the platform, it would go one step further and ditch follower counts too. Last year it made the figures less prominent when viewing someone’s profile, but the popularity contest that keeps us tied to the app like dogs on a leash would be solved if the tally were to disappear completely.

Instagram will never do this, however, as our need to post and scroll is dependent on our need to validate ourselves through notifications and an insatiable thirst for recognition, factors that are critical to the platform's popularity.

Instagram lost its charm a long time ago, going from a funky little start-up busy competing with the likes of Hipstamatic, to a soulless, corporate subsidiary that may try to paint itself as a cuddly entity that genuinely cares for your mental health, but truly only cares about its bottom line. The indie scrapper that started as a photo-sharing app (though some will remember that it was once called "Burbn" and wanted to be Foursquare) has evolved into something that it was never intended to be. In its early days, it seemed more accessible and appealing than Tumblr, a platform that by comparison felt too anarchic with its obscure memes and bewildering gifs. Instagram felt stable and fun. However, while trying to make cool filters in order to turn mediocre iPhone snaps into “art” thanks to some faded blacks, light leaks, and a heavy vignette, the designers inadvertently created the world’s largest popularity contest in which even those who look like they are winning are actually losers.

As music photographer Anna Lee tweeted a few days ago, “brands are doing to Instagram what parents did to Facebook.” Having squeezed out the last remaining Instagram founder, Facebook has ensured that Instagram is no longer Instagram: it’s become Instagram from Facebook. Instagram was never particularly edgy but it did have its appeal, and it is now successfully shedding everything that made it feel even vaguely authentic. The steady corporatization may eventually threaten its status, potentially triggering a leakage of users to The Next Big Thing, perhaps to a platform that isn’t dominated by hyper-mainstream brands constantly hawking their wares through shamelessly vacuous wannabes.

Instagram from Facebook

Allegedly, this is how Instagram will soon be listed on the app store. I for one welcome our new insect overlords. What does this achieve exactly? Does it make you hate Facebook less or despise Instagram more?

Alternatively, by disempowering the influencers, the platform will start to feel a little more like a photo-sharing app rather than one infinitely scrolling commercial. Perhaps this is an incredibly shrewd move to ensure that Instagram doesn't become so over-saturated by commercial content that users finally despair and go in search of something that's not sold its soul to Mammon. We're yet to reach peak-influencer, but surely we must be close.

Instagram is now the most corporate of corporate corporations and what else should we expect from a behemoth that exists solely to create profit? The issue here is that Instagram isn’t selling rubber gloves in a pleasing array of colors, or running a delightfully cozy deli that blends its own hummus. Instagram is far more pervasive than that.

It shapes how we communicate, what we think about, and how we think it, and thereby shapes who we are. Through its size, reach, and role, it has a vast responsibility for how society functions. This isn’t just about the countless fashion influencers who regularly have meltdowns, posting blubbing confessions that social media is destroying their lives and that they have to take a break, only to return two weeks later as if nothing has happened. This is about the very essence of our social fabric and right now Instagram and Facebook simply do not care because they do not have to — not to mention that caring would be a threat to their margins.

Is Facebook too powerful? Does Instagram have too large a role in shaping how we live? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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8 Comments

C. Broken's picture

I've tried Instagram once.. Wasn't thrilled with the results because my smart phone doesn't take good pictures. So I located a web app that allowed me to post pic to my insta profile. but even then, I'm not into the "Numbers Game"

David Love's picture

So ban influencers and click bait shite and leave the rest of us alone. Done.

Percy Ortiz's picture

i call bs on this. You can still see likes counters for your own posts so influencers have started to share screen caps showing how many likes their posts have to brands... same s##t, different toilet bowl

Dan Marchant's picture

+1
Ye olde paper Magazine's never had visible likes/follows on their covers but they still managed to attract advertisers just by telling them what their readership was (sure many used a 3rd party ABC to quantify/verify their numbers). Pretty sure the dumb advertisers will be happy with a screen grab from an influenza.

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

I post on Instagram for friends, all over the world. I don't care how many followers or likes I have. It's just convenient for me to share with my friends. That's all.

Gilmour Dickson's picture

I use it as a platform (like FB) to try and showcase my small photographic safari lodge, and in that game its all about images (obviously). How many likes or followers I have is largely irrelevant, its more about a marketing presence or at least having a site when people do trip research. But the fact that it is so huge, so corporate and so clearly able to mess people up (be it the negative aspects or social media or be it clients who think that Instagram is somehow an arbitrator of good photography) is BS. These judgemental social media platforms (especially trip advisor) can do so much damage and their only real existence is to make money - not benefit consumers. I wouldn't mind so much if they were just more upfront about it all. Including "influencers". Modern day life I guess....

They should hide followers and likes as well. Every other Instagram article is about how to game the system to artificially increase numbers. How nice if it were simply a platform to share and appreciate great photography.