Influencers vs Instagram: Hiding Like Counts Sparks Tears and Controversy

Instagram’s controversial experiment with hiding public like counts is only live in seven countries, but it’s already inspired some freakouts from influencers who claim the change is crippling their engagement and destroying their livelihood.

The experiment began in May, when Instagram made likes private for Canadian users only. Two months later, the social network expanded the trial to six more countries, adding Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand to the list.

And just like that, millions of users saw one of their key metrics disappear from public view.

For your typical shutterbug who uses Instagram to share photos of their dog with friends and family, or pass around the latest meme, this wasn’t a big deal. But the expansion was almost immediately met with ire from influencers who depend on Instagram to make a living.

In a video posted to her Instagram account, Australian Instagram model Mikaela Testa had a tearful “meltdown” about the response she received for criticizing the change on Facebook. The post, which has since been removed, claimed that Instagram was doing “real damage” with this change.

“Regardless of what you may think, Instagram is a REAL job and those in the industry have worked hard to get where they’re at,” she wrote. “I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into this for it to be ripped away, it’s not just me suffering too, it’s every brand and business I know.”

Her subsequent video meltdown was about some of the hateful comments and DMs she had received as a result, not about hidden like counts as most reports claimed, but the damage was already done. International news outlets the world over posted the video under headlines like “Instagrammer Has Meltdown after ‘Likes’ Removed from Her Posts.”

But while Testa is an easy target—her feed consists of racy, bikini-clad images, and influencers in general haven’t done themselves any favors lately—nobody has stopped to consider that the real “bad guy” here might be Instagram.

Instagram claims that this experiment is being done in users’ best interest. The pop-up that appears on affected accounts reads, “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.” But a strong case can be made that this move is actually an attempt to win back the ad revenue that Influencers claimed while Instagram was asleep at the wheel.

Facebook took its time adding ads to to the platform, and in the meantime, Influencers took a massive piece of the pie. Kylie Jenner reportedly makes $1 million per Instagram post, and 0% of that goes back to the platform. Meanwhile, Instagram’s own ads don’t receive nearly the engagement that you’ll see on posts by influential users.

Removing likes is an easy way to kill two birds with one stone. Not only does it look like the platform is making a change that would be better for its users’ mental health, they’re also leveling the playing field with Influencers and encouraging brands to work through Instagram if they want to advertise their goods on the platform.

It’s easy to take Instagram’s side in this argument; that’s what makes it so shrewd. Defending influencers—who often come off as vapid, entitled or greedy—is hard to stomach. But as The New York Post put it in a recent article, “The hustle of Instagram stars is admirable. The greed of Instagram, estimated to be worth $100 billion, isn’t.”

Plus, not all “influencers” are hawking beauty products or posting mostly-naked selfies for a living. Many influential photographers and creators make serious money on Instagram as well. We have no recourse—and certainly no reason to expect Instagram to make changes that benefit power users over its bottom line—but from the end of the chronological feed to the slow demise of like counts, Instagram has done more “harm” to photographers who depend on the platform than any entitled influencer ever did.