Instagram's 'hidden likes' slammed as money-making tool disguised as mental health advocacy

Marketing experts have slammed Instagram for disguising its hidden 'like count' as mental health advocacy, saying the move is purely motivated by money.

The photo-sharing platform made the controversial decision last week, hiding the number of likes on a post from fellow users. The social media giant claimed the decision was made to "address issues around wellbeing" and to stop users measuring their worth by likes. 

"We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love," Instagram said.

"We are rethinking the whole experience of Instagram... to ensure the Instagram community has a positive experience on our platform."

Yet marketing experts have slammed Instagram's supposed mental health advocacy, claiming their new stance is merely an excuse to rake in advertisement revenue from small businesses who are now able to compete with Instagram 'influencers'.

"This recent change is about raising ad revenue for the platform, making Instagram more appealing for small businesses and brands to pump dollars into the growing social behemoth," Dave Levett, the founder of marketing agency Murmur, told the Daily Mail.

Levett claims social media personalities who turn their Instagram into a lucrative business by promoting brands and products are the ones making the money - and Instagram wants in on the profit.

"Instagram wants businesses spending money on its platform instead of influencers," he said.

Many business profiles on the app avoid shelling out for Instagram advertisements due to a general disinterest in small companies. Most Instagrammers will follow fitness, beauty and lifestyle bloggers and influential celebrities, meaning it's far more viable for businesses to pay social media stars with high follower engagement to promote their products for them.

A marketing insider told the publication that Instagram advertisements were regarded as an "industry joke" due to their ineffectiveness for small or medium businesses with low user engagement.

Hiding the number of likes means businesses no longer have to worry about users judging the popularity of their product by how many likes their advertisements receive. As a result, more companies are likely to splash their cash on Instagram's ad services.

Other experts agree that if the platform truly cared about the mental health of its users, it would implement practical features such as warnings for heavy usage, or highlighting heavily edited and manipulated photos. Both of these ideas have been recommended by the British Royal Society for Public Health.

A number of influencers have publicly shamed Instagram for its like count removal, calling it demotivating. Some profiles say the hidden likes have decreased the engagement of their followers, threatening their social media livelihood.

Australian Instagram star Tammy Hembrow, who boasts over 10 million followers on the app, has threatened to delete her profile in response to the new feature.

Other influencers are unfazed by the move, claiming their partnerships and earning potential won't be affected as brands trust profiles with proven engagement. Users are the only ones who can see how many likes their photos get, meaning popular profiles are still able to provide statistics of their follower engagement.

The removal of the like count is currently being trialled across select countries, although likes can still be seen on desktop browsers.

Instagram has been approached for comment.