Instagram removing likes is about money, not mental health

Instagram has said that making likes private will help make the social media platform feel less like a "competition", thereby improving users' mental health. However, Murmur's Dave Levett thinks that's "bullshit". It's not a mental health initiative, he says, it's about getting small businesses to spend more on ads.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Just like the detectives in The Usual Suspects when Kevin Spacey tells his elaborate and over-the-top ruse about Keyser Söze, we’re currently being sold another elaborate and over the top ruse: the reason behind Instagram’s recent removal of likes.

Let’s stop the bullshit. This recent change isn’t about improving the mental health of Instagram users.

It’s about raising ad revenue for the platform, and making Instagram more appealing for small businesses.

Sure, at this stage, it’s just a ‘test’, and if it proves unsuccessful, and ad revenues decline, likes will be back quicker than Kylie Jenner can get a hashtag trending.

However, what is going to happen is that Instagram ad revenue will increase, and you’ll never see your likes again.

The mental health focus is pretence

Firstly, many publications are misquoting the ‘Status of Mind’ research from the Royal Society for Public Health, which highlights Instagram as the platform most likely to negatively impact people’s wellbeing and health.

However, in the report, there is no correlation made between Instagram likes and mental health. In fact, in their seven recommendations, there is not a single mention of Instagram likes, let alone the suggestion that removing them will positively impact mental health.

If Instagram really was serious about mental health, it would take on board some of the report’s recommendations – namely, the introduction of a pop-up heavy usage warning. Or, highlight when photos of people have been digitally manipulated.

In April, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri announced the platform would be rolling out private like counts.

However, he spent zero time talking about the impact this would have on mental health. In fact, Mosseri spent less than 20 seconds talking about private like counts before moving onto more substantial changes the platform is making to counter cyber bullying (none of which are related to private like counts).

Big win for small businesses

There are 25m Instagram business profiles globally, but only 2m monthly advertisers.

Even though ad spend on the platform has increased by 177% over Facebook year on year, the gap between the businesses that pay and the businesses that use is a massive problem.

Small businesses account for 97.4% of all businesses operating in Australia, so trying to get small businesses to advertise is a key strategic goal for Instagram.

But, it hasn’t been easy if you’re a small business trying to make some sales on Instagram.

We know that businesses with a high level of social proof will receive a higher number of sales.

Who wants to eat in an empty restaurant?

Who wants to line up for an empty nightclub?

Who wants to click on an ad that has zero likes?

Well – now more people will.

By removing the ability for people to see how many likes an ad has received, Instagram has allowed small businesses to advertise without the fear that their ads will have little engagement.

Those advertisers will now likely see an increase in engagement, an increase in click-through rate, an increase in sales, and, therefore, an increase in the dollars they pump into the platform.

This change to Instagram isn’t about improving mental health. It’s about money.

And rather than improving the transparency between influencers and their audiences, Instagram has shrouded one of its metrics in more secrecy, in order to help the people that really matter to the platform – businesses – paying for ads.

Dave Levett is the managing director of Murmur


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