Instagram to hide likes to combat 'social media envy'

Instagram, the photo-sharing app, often shows the perfect image we want to project to the world. But there can be a downside to the idyllic images.

Some users feel like their reality doesn't measure up to what they are seeing on their feeds. So, the social media giant is trying something out: hiding the number of "likes" each photo gets.

It's already happening on a trial basis in Canada, Australia, and 5 other countries. The social media giant has not confirmed whether it will expand the trial to the United States.

You will still be able to like and comment on other people's photos, and you will still be able to see how many likes your photos are receiving. But, you won't be able to see how many likes other users are getting on their posts.

Instagram says the move is designed to make the app more content-focused, a place where people go share images, rather than compete for popularity.

But a 2017 study found that how we view Instagram may really come down to how we are wired, and how likely we are to compare ourselves to other people.

Scrolling through photos shared by friends and strangers, Emory internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist says it's sometimes easy to feel a kind of "Insta-envy.":

"People post their best self," Dr. Bergquist says.  "They post happy events, where they're all smiling.  They're not posting the big fight they just had, or their messy divorce."

Bergquist says she has heard the criticisms social media can leave us feeling disconnected, and less than perfect.

Still, she says, the 2017 experiment showed there is no easy way to determine if social media like Instagram is good or bad for our mental health.

Researchers found there are too many variables to consider, including our own personality, and how competitive we are with others.

The study focused on how people viewed a stranger's positive Instagram posts.

"They found that people who tend to make more social comparisons tend to get more of a negative effect, after viewing a positive post, because they're comparing themselves to other people," Dr. Bergquist says. "They are looking with jealousy, with envy, and it has a net-negative effect."

On the other hand, Dr. Bergquist says, the study volunteers who were less likely to compare themselves to others seemed to get an emotional boost from seeing the same images.

"It tends to have this contagious positive affect," Dr. Bergquist says.  "If you see a positive post, it puts you in a better mood."

Bergquist says the issue of whether social media has a positive or negative impact on us may come down to how we view the world around us.

"It's saying, look at your personality and decide if social media is a good way to spend your time," Dr. Bergquist says.  "Because, some people, you may walk away feeling like your life doesn't measure up.  And, other people may get a big lift."

So, Bergquist says, try to clue in on how being on social media makes you feel.

"When you read a post, really stop and think, how did that impact me," Bergquist says. "And, if you walk away feeling that you're not good enough, that you're not measuring up, you need to have that awareness about yourself and tune into yourself."

It may be time to take a break from your feeds.