Instagram changing how it displays likes, possibly impacting influencers' bottom lines

Instagram is having a change of heart - literally. 

The social media giant says it's testing a new way of presenting likes, which are denoted by a little red heart. Those will actually go into hiding in an effort to bring the focus back to the content.

The test is limited to Canadian users, for now, but social media influencers like Kahlea Nicole are watching the potential change closely.

Nicole says, at first, she thought it was a hoax.

"I think really, my knee-jerk reaction was like, 'Oh no! What are people going to do now?' Because it really does play a role in how influencers are making their income," she said.

According to CNET, Instagram will make the number of followers an account has less prominent. And the number of likes a post receives will become private, visible only to the account's owner.

But for Nicole, a former blogger turned business coach who helps women monetize their passion using Instagram, this change could impact her bottom line.

She herself has monetized the platform but admits likes are like a double-edged sword.

"There's two different sides to the story," she said. "For influencers [who] are working with brands, they are freaking out because it really plays a factor into the partnership that you're landing. But on the other side, there are kids who are really looking to Instagram for self-esteem and [asking themselves] are they getting enough likes? That really validates them. It's that affirmation that they're looking for, digitally."

University of South Florida graduate student Curtis Puryear, who is studying the effects of social media on society, says there is evidence of social media hurting mental health. 

"Receiving likes, and seeing people receiving likes, activates the rewards system in our brains," he said.

But he believes there's just not enough evidence.

"A lot of this research is still in its infancy. We're far away from reaching consensus," Puryear said. "The best data we have points to a very small relationship, if any."

Back in February, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, announced it was going to do more to address self-harm and suicide through the platform, however, it's not clear whether removing like metrics is part of this effort.