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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.

On Twitter, the Chief Technology Officer of Instagram, Mike Krieger said 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."

From: Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy. So why can't you put it down⁉️ - Globe & Mail

I know this may be a "he-said, she said" type situation, but is there any more substantial evidence out there proving one way or the other?

5

There is an article dealing with this subject: Is Instagram Strategically Withholding My Likes?

The Instagram representative denies this:

On Twitter, Instagram’s CTO and co-founder Mike Krieger flatly denied that the company is withholding your likes. “To be super clear, we don’t do this,” he tweeted.

Several experts are quoted which find this unlikely, often because of how hard would it be to implement:

We asked Gil Eyal, CEO and co-founder of HYPR Brands, a company that provides data analytics for social-media influencers. Eyal says there’s just no way, given the size of its user base, that Instagram is doing this. “When you build an app that is so robust, and you have so many notifications to send users, you have to steer things, because you can’t just send everything at once,” Eyal explained. For Instagram to be “so sophisticated that they know when every single user should receive a like notification to get them back looking at the platform” would be “beyond what they’re capable of.”

In a Twitter thread, software engineer Sarah Mei offered a more technical explanation of why Instagram likely isn’t squirreling away your likes.

Links for primary references for the quotes in the article:

  • This is probably the best answer we're going to get without an insider who works for Instagram letting us know. – DenisS Mar 23 '18 at 13:33
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    Also, I suspect your pleasure or displeasure with the number of likes you've received is probably relative to what you've received previously. It would have to be a pretty sophisticated formula to work with any consistency. Then, of course, would it actually work? The original claim takes it as a given that it would. I have doubts it would even work as claimed. – fredsbend Mar 23 '18 at 14:36

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