Both social scientists and media bigwigs are beginning to explore the influence of social media on human behavior. Starting with the whispers of Instagram’s hidden follower and like-count experimentation, Facebook has now thrown its digital hat into the ring – they, too, are prototyping hidden likes privately. Instagram is already testing the function publicly in seven countries (TechCrunch).
Facebook confirmed this testing September 2nd when Jane Manchun Wong, an enthusiast in uncovering app features pre-launch, discovered code for the feature in its Android version.
Beta testing of hidden like counts makes sense in the context of this generation’s outcry to address mental health and well-being. Research studying how social media affects the mental health and self- esteem of target groups (teens and young adults) is mixed, however.
Pew Research Center’s 2018 study found that teens yield benefits like inclusion, deeper friendships, and help to understand different points of view from interacting with social media. The same study also says teens often feel overwhelmed by the drama of social media and tend to unfriend those causing it, or those espousing political views they disagree with.
An article by the National Center for Health Research compared the increase of mental health issues in those target groups with the high usage of smartphones and social media in the same group. Among other discouraging facts cited, one study mentioned in the article found that greater Instagram usage is associated with greater self-objectification and concern about body image.
Facebook (also owners of WhatsApp and Instagram) refuses to disclose the results of their Instagram testing or explain why they’ve expanded to other social media. One would hope their intention is to meet the demands of their negatively impacted users. Though, such a change would certainly impact ad revenue and the general marketing platform these outlets have come to depend on. It appears there would have to be very compelling reason(s), positive or negative, to risk a sizeable income hit.
We’ve seen Facebook and its collective apps in and out of the hotseat recently for the alleged misuse of personal information leading to an influence on user buying habits, and even their perceptions of current events. Could this new development be a preventative measure? Or is it an answer to the requests of the app’s user base?