Voiced by Amazon Polly

So you accidentally liked a picture on Instagram.

If I like then unlike a photo, will the user who posted the photo know?

This is a follow-up to my Instagram Privacy Tips and FAQ, which has received over 600 comments. The answer to this like/unlike mystery is worthy of its own post because it deals with the concepts of push (notification outside of the app) versus pull (user activity/refreshes within the app).

iPhone home screen floating apps

How Instagram app looked on iPhone in 2011

What is push vs pull for iPhone apps?

iPhone apps that you open then leave to use another app are still running in the background. To fully close an iPhone app, on the home screen, double click the home button. You’ll see a horizontal array of apps that are running (updated as of iOS 9.1). Swipe upward on each app to fully close it. (Battery life hint: close apps that you’re not using often, especially ones with location services turned on.)

Can someone tell I liked their Instagram post if I unlike right it afterward?

Maybe, here are four scenarios:

  1. Recipient has push notifications on (regardless of IG app running or not): like notification received
  2. Recipient has push notifications off and IG app actively in use: like notification received
  3. Recipient has push notifications off and IG app open but not actively in use: like notification not received
  4. Recipient has push notifications off and IG app not open: like notification not received

Why: Some users have Instagram notifications turned on so that they get alerts on their iPhone home screen when actions are taken, such as users liking their photos or leaving comments. (Adjust this in iPhone Settings -> Notifications -> Instagram -> choose Alerts, Banners, or None.)

The other user seeing your like is first dependent on if notifications (push) are turned on regardless of whether the IG app is open or not. If the user does not have notifications enabled and happens to refresh their IG feed between your like/unlike, your action will show there.

Instagram accidental like - tips by Emily Binder - laurennnepIt’s not how quickly you unlike after a like, but how soon the recipient actively checks the app. If you like then unlike an hour later with no activity on the recipient side (the one who posted the picture) during the hour, then no notification will be received (unless push notifications are on). Can you see why this is not a simple answer?

With the IG app closed, the news feed is not updated until you launch the app. So using your spidey sense, do your stalking and risk accidental unlikes while your frenemy has Instagram closed or is on a plane.
If the app is open and actively being used, the like/heart icon appears above News briefly but goes away (see left- the 1 would appear next to the heart). Immediately unliking won’t change this.

Simply put:

If notifications are turned off and the like/unlike recipient does not have Instagram actively running (i.e., in the background), then the recipient will not notice nor receive a notification. If notifications are on, all bets are off: they may see the like.

This applies to deleted accounts as well:

If I like a photo then delete my Instagram account, will the other user know?
Maybe. See above paragraph. If notifications are turned on, then yes, they may see the like even if you have deleted your profile right afterward.

Here are some neat Instagram apps to play with as well as info for developers. Product Hunt has a good list of Instagram apps.

*This blog is not affiliated with Instagram in any way. These tips are based on my own experience and experimentation.

Looking for tips on LinkedIn privacy? You may have uploaded hundreds of your contacts to LinkedIn by accident. How to Manage LinkedIn Privacy Settings and Remove Imported Contacts

Post updated 10/23/15

Thanks to Sarag for the original question in 2012 that sparked this post.

The majority of IG users are too young to remember it looking really old. Here are screenshots that were the featured images of this blog post when I first published it in January 2012. Wayback:

Instagram photo of keys street art by vinguyen23

How Instagram used to look (2012)

Instagram notifications new follower