On Tuesday, April 30, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a series of large-scale privacy and design changes to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Instagram is going to start testing its new feature of hiding ‘like’ counts from the public in Canada.
Adam Mosseri, a representative of Instagram, said that likes on a user’s post will be hidden from public view on the main Feed and on individual profiles; only users themselves will be able to see how many likes they get on each post.
He did not immediately clarify if the feature will be applied to all accounts on Instagram, or if users will need to opt into the feature.
This new feature is called ‘Private like counts’ where, as the name suggests, users cannot see any like counts as they scroll through the feed, said Instagram. They can see all the users who liked a photo or video, but no totalled like count as is currently displayed in other parts of the world.
“You can see who liked a photo or video, you can tap through it, and if you have the time you can add them all up yourself”, said Mosseri.
This feature was first discovered by code hunter Jane Wong, who also posted some screenshots of what the feature looks like, on Twitter.
“Instagram is testing hiding like count from audiences, as stated in the app: ‘We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.”
Why is Instagram doing this?
These changes come on the heels of Facebook attempting to be more user-oriented and less cluttered with sponsored content. However, in the context of Instagram, the company’s ‘Private like counts’ feature is more for tackling online bullying.
To make cyberbullying a less common occurrence on the app, Instagram has moved even beyond the ‘Private like count’ idea to newer tools and features.
It is introducing common filters and pop-up notifications that will work as “nudges” if the app detects a user posting aggressive comments. Instagram’s new tentatively-named “Away Mode” will also give users a way to opt out of Instagram, when they are going through difficult periods of change and transition.
Instagram is also redesigning its profile to deemphasise popularity on the app.
“In the new design of the profile, we’re making follower counts much less prominent”, says Mosseri.
The app has also rolled out features that allow a user to mute certain words and accounts and even disable comments.
Privacy and user-oriented layout
According to Zuckerberg, all these massive cross-platform changes are an attempt to increase privacy and security on the app.
Facebook does not have the best track record with privacy. The infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked the platform after news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a communications company accessed 50 million users’ private information.
Security experts became concerned that Cambridge Analytica crafted psychological profiles of American voters and create customised ad content to influence their political views in the 2016 presidential election.
In April, Zuckerberg was summoned before the US Congress to testify about the data breach. He was grilled by the Senate commerce and judiciary committees on data mining and privacy policies over five hours.
He even admitted to Facebook’s mistake of not banning Cambridge Analytica when it began operating as an advertiser on Facebook in 2015.
“When we heard back from Cambridge Analytica that they had told us that they weren’t using the data and deleted it, we considered it a closed case. In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again”, said Zuckerberg at the hearing, according to the Guardian.
Zuckerberg, aware of these developments, opened the F8 keynote with this joke, “Look, I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we’re serious about this. I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now to put it lightly.”
Instagram did not address the impact the Private Like Count will have on advertisers and social media influencers who leverage their massive followings and like counts with companies to earn money as product promoters and advertisers.
What is obvious is that Instagram are pivoting to a more user-centric app experience—one that made it popular in the first place.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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