UPDATE, 7/16/19, 4.40 p.m.
A representative from Facebook and Instagram Canada has reached out for comment, suggesting that the restoration of likes was a temporary glitch. The number of likes has now been removed once more from the feeds of Canadian test accounts.
"Post likes were temporarily restored for a small number of people," says David Troya-Alvarez, of the company's corporate communications arm. "We’ve now resolved this technical error. We hope that by making the number of likes private, people will be able to focus more on the photos and videos posted in Feed, and that this will ultimately drive deeper engagement. We’re excited by the early results from the pilot here in Canada, but there’s still a lot we want to learn."
The original article follows below:
After announcing in late April that the platform would be removing the numerical count of likes on photos in Canada, Instagram seems to have reversed that policy today.
Many sharp-eyed social media users have noted that the original counter for likes has returned to their accounts, although the Facebook-owned company has yet to release an official statement confirming that the Canada-wide test has ended.
The month-and-a-half long experiment saw the platform obscuring all likes from photos and videos that showed up on the main feed, profiles, and permalinked pages. The likes, however, did continue to be tallied, and were displayed only to the original poster.
In a statement in April, the company suggested that the aim of its test was to encourage followers to focus on the content—the photos and videos that were shared—rather than the feedback they received.
Instagram’s reversion to its original format follows news that that the clout of influencers has been steadily declining across the platform. Sponsored posts from the it-girls and boys of social media have been receiving much lower rates of engagement since the beginning of 2019, falling from 4 percent in 2016 to 2.4 percent in the first months of this year.
Total engagement of organic posts on the platform, too, has seen a sharp decline, dropping from 4.5 percent to 1.9 percent over the same period. It’s unclear how the Canadian test compares against these platform-average totals.
To offset that worrying decrease, Instagram has announced that it will focus its attention in the future on ecommerce. A week after the platform removed public likes from Canadian feeds, it introduced another test for users to buy products directly from the app. Certain influencers have been given the option to tag specific products—everything from sneakers to a particular shade of foundation—in their pictures.
Individuals can tap the photo to reveal the names and links for products, and purchase them without ever leaving the platform. Continuing to roll out that technology will provide Instagram with a wealth of shopping data, and—it presumably hopes—take a chunk of the retail business from rival tech giant Amazon.
Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays