Can Instagram lead the way in ‘depressurizing’ social media

The head of Instagram, Adam Mossieri, has been working on the next phase of Instagram’s journey, going beyond its current incarnation where numbers of followers and likes determine one’s influencer status. Last year, Instagram rolled out a trial of hiding the Like count for certain Instagram profiles, and users whose accounts this took effect on reported a sense of relief at not having to hit a certain number of likes on their posts any longer.

In a new deep dive into Mossieri’s plans in The New York Times, reporter Amy Chozick talks of how the Instagram boss “is thinking about the larger, potentially corrosive impact of social media” while he considers what to change about the social network, with Like counts his being next move. Chosick has had a number of interviews with Mossieri now, and has reviewed his plans for Instagram.

“Likes are the social media currency undergirding an entire influencer economy, inspiring a million Kardashian wannabes and giving many of us regular people daily endorphin hits. But lately, Mr. Mosseri has been concerned about the unanticipated consequences of Instagram as approval arbiter,” says Chosick in her analysis of the situation.

I think that what is key here is perfecting a delicate balancing act for Instagram. On the one hand, a social network needs people to create – it needs content. Something Twitter and Facebook have been struggling with of late, but which Instagram especially with its big focus on Stories has not needed to worry about. Like counts, follower counts and views are key to keeping us engaged.

On the other hand, a responsible social network today has a duty to the world, to society as a whole. Be that through bringing in tighter controls, or changing how the social network’s fundamentals, like the Like count, work. Facebook’s problems with fake content, Twitter’s issues with trolling, and Instagram’s issues around self harm are well-documented. Taking a strong stance on an issue like mental health is a big dichotomy for social networks, so nailing this balancing act is key.

The key phrase that came from Mossieri in his time with Chosick at the New York Times, for me, was this question which he posed to his colleagues at Instagram: “How do we depressurize the app?”

I would love to see Instagram lead the way in depressurizing social media. And balance is going to be key.

Chinese social network of the moment TikTok, for example, not only has public Like counts, but it adds them all from your profile and displays the grand total on a user’s profile page, along with public post view counts, so it has gone completely in the opposite direction to Instagram. While observing TikTok’s rapid growth, Instagram will surely be considering its choices carefully.