'Likes' on Instagram posts to be hidden as campaigners warn of mental health issues
Children's welfare campaigners have welcomed Instagram's move to hide the number of 'likes' visible for individual posts on the social media platform in Ireland.
The tech giant, which is part of Facebook, is running a trial here where an Instagram user can still see how many 'likes' their own posts get, but not those of other Instagram users' posts.
The company says it is doing so to ease pressure on Instagram's use as a social "competition".
Social media platforms like Instagram have long been accused of creating huge problems around self-esteem because of how peers are portrayed with filtered, idealised lives.
"Kids sometimes value what their online following is saying about them more than their real life family and friends," said Alex Cooney, chief executive of CyberSafe Ireland.
"In one of the school education sessions we held, a nine-year-old girl told us that she takes 20 selfies and if she doesn't get enough likes or comments, she takes it down because she assumes people think she's ugly."
A new study of 3,826 adolescents in Canada found social media may be associated with teenage depression as children compare themselves with unrealistic images of acquaintances and role models.
Campaigners say that Instagram's move could be a valuable first step in making social media platforms less dangerous for children and teenagers suffering from depression and self-esteem issues.
But Instagram and other social networks need to go further, said Ms Cooney.
"We should have privacy settings by default, particularly for children. There is a big problem with things like self-esteem, especially among girls."
In Ireland, Instagram is one of the two dominant social media networks among the under-18s, along with Snapchat.
"Kids see the number of likes they get as being a sign of their worth," said Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance.
"So this might make a difference."
However, Instagram users will still be shown the number of comments that other users' posts attract. This may lead to the number of visible comments being used as a proxy for popularity. If so, it may also see more controversial content being posted on Instagram as users look for validation from debates, arguments and comments.
To date, Instagram has been seen as the least controversial of the major social media platforms, largely avoiding the controversy over 'fake news' and hate speech that plagues other platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
"We want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves," said Tara Hopkins, head of public policy, EMEA at Instagram. "This includes helping people to focus on the photos and videos they share, not how many likes they get. We are now rolling the test out to more countries so we learn more from our global community and see how this can benefit people's experiences."