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Illustration Marianne Wilson

Instagram likes will disappear in the US next week

The social media platform is running a trial in an attempt to foster healthier online conversations

It’s pretty logical that social media users get more engagement (whether it’s positive or negative doesn’t really matter) when they post strong opinions. Comments sections blow up and creators can generate even more clicks, likes, views etc. by bouncing off the backlash. It’s also pretty logical that this doesn’t foster the best environment to have a conversation online.

In an attempt to cultivate a healthier online space and combat the creation of this extreme and/or divisive content, the head of Instagram has announced the platform will be trialing the removal of likes in the US next week.

This follows similar trials that the company have run in countries including Canada, Japan, Australia, Ireland, and Brazil. Reactions to these trials were mixed. While there was a worry that the removal of public engagement metrics would be damaging for Instagram professionals, such as influencers – whose numbers are an important signal to potential customers or clients – others welcomed the change.

The decision to carry the trial over to the US also follows other attempts to change the nature of conversations on the social media platform. Instagram has previously introduced an algorithm to censor offensive comments or pictures (which is a rabbithole in itself) and a tool that lets users report fake news.

In fact, all of the tech giants seem to be waking up and realising how they’ve contributed to the mess we’re unquestionably in (even if they don’t really know what to do about it). Facebook – which also owns Instagram – has also tried removing engagement metrics, along with YouTube and Twitter.

The guy that invented Twitter’s retweet button has expressed his regret, saying: “We might have just handed a four-year-old a loaded weapon.”

Will the US trial of removing likes work for Instagram? On the one hand, it might help people stop measuring their self worth against celebrities and dissuade divisive content; on the other, creators might suffer and, as some have pointed out, measuring an account’s legitimacy could become more difficult.

So basically, we don’t know. We’re going to have to wait and see while Facebook and co run their experiments (with us being, essentially, the guinea pigs).