Instagram is not withholding your likes

You might have seen a viral tweet going around on social media yesterday that claimed Instagram strategically withholds your likes, in order to get you to come back for more on a regular basis.

Matt Mayberry, who works at a California startup called Dopamine Labs, says it’s common knowledge in the industry that Instagram exploits this craving by strategically withholding “likes” from certain users. If the photo-sharing app decides you need to use the service more often, it’ll show only a fraction of the likes you’ve received on a given post at first, hoping you’ll be disappointed with your haul and check back again in a minute or two. “They’re tying in to your greatest insecurities,” Mr. Mayberry said.

The tweet was based on this almost certainly not well researched story about how your phone is 'making you stupid' and makes a claim that people would love to believe. 

The narrative that phones are bad, and technology companies are trying to make you use them more, is pervasive right now — people really want to believe that something like this is going on, and based on how viral this has gone with little provable truth to it.

Instagram co-founder and CTO replied on Twitter and said "to be super clear we don't do this," continuing that "replication lag/etc may mean things aren't instantaneous but not intentionally so. and notifications we try and strike a balance of being timely + not over-sending notifs. UI shows our latest/best count once you're in the app."

Essentially, the technology's implementation is the problem, not nefariously designed software. At a scale of a billion users, things like this are certainly because the company needs to queue up thousands of messages a second and distribute them. It's a real challenge, but it manifests itself in strange ways. 

It's interesting to see how the tide is turning on technology companies: people are more than willing to believe that Instagram, Facebook et al are manipulating us as we spend our days there. In fact, they want to believe it.

The reason for this should not be discounted, however, as it's clear there's a serious trust issue at hand. Surveys suggest trust of the social network is at an all time low, and it's likely because to the majority of people, it feels like an opaque machine with little empathy.

Even though the rumor is false, it feels true and people want to believe it. Just like the ever-pervasive theory that Facebook listens to your microphone to show advertising, the new challenge presented to technology companies is helping non-technical audiences understand why their technology works the way it does.


Tab Dump

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Hawaii missile alert sent to all thanks to poorly designed drop-down
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Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.”

  Oh. my. god.