A new report claims on behalf of three former Facebook employees that Instagram is hiding 'likes' as an experiment to determine whether doing so will get users to post more content. The theory, according to CNBC, is that users who receive few likes on their content may not post as often out of a sense of embarrassment. By hiding likes, Instagram may remove the psychological barrier preventing many users from frequently posting.

Over the course of its test this year, Instagram repeatedly presented its decision to hide likes as an effort to 'depressurize' the platform, reduce cyberbullying, and help users focus on the subjects and people who interest them. By hiding likes, the company has said, Instagram will feel less like a popularity contest.

The anonymous sources speaking to CNBC claim that it was parent company Facebook's research that spurred the hidden likes test. The social media company allegedly found that removing public like counts resulted in Instagram users posting more often.

One source claims that Facebook's research showed users were deleting or hiding posts that didn't receive many likes, among other things. Whereas the lack of publicly visible likes helps users feel less self-conscious when their content doesn't get much attention, the delivery of like and comment notifications to these same users may provide an incentive for them to post more often.

Instagram is allegedly aware of the fact that hidden 'likes' may have a negative impact on influencers by reducing the amount of engagement on their posts, but the sources claim that Facebook isn't terribly concerned due to the lack of adequate competing services these influencers have available to them. This may not matter for the company in the long run if enough users start posting often enough to noticeably boost ad revenue, potentially making up for any negative effects on influencers.

The question remains over whether the 'depressurized' nature of a publicly like-free Instagram will lead to the more habitual use of the platform among some users, potentially paving the way for an uptick in 'Instagram addiction' cases. If a sense of peer pressure is causing many users to inherently moderate their use of the platform, removing that psychological barrier may have some unwanted consequences.