After Instagram began experimenting with hiding like counts earlier this year, parent company Facebook has now revealed it may follow suit.
The social media juggernaut, with 2.4 billion monthly active users, is mulling over possibly hiding likes from the public. Facebook confirmed to WWD that it is indeed considering the move, though it didn’t disclose when it might take any concrete steps or what factors would go into the decision. Presumably, only the user sharing the post would be able to see the like counts.
If approved, the move would play into Facebook’s goal of encouraging more authentic, personal conversations. At its spring F8 developer conference, chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said, “We’ve been working on a major evolution to make communities as central as friends.”
In May, Facebook-owned Instagram ditched likes for a test group in Canada. The photo-sharing app has since expanded the test to Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. This summer, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri explained that “we don’t want Instagram to be such a competition. We want it to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with the people that they love and the things that they care about.”
These perspectives are noteworthy, but not entirely surprising — especially after a 2018 University of Pennsylvania study revealed social media’s psychological effects on users.
While there has been no shortage of mental health professionals speaking out about the dangers of social media use, studies proving a link have been harder to come by. But in a first, U. Penn’s Melissa G. Hunt connected Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram usage to decreased well-being. She published the study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology in December 2018.
At the time, Hunt said that “using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.”
Likes are an easy target. Psychologists believe those little thumbs-ups or positive emojis offer validation and stimulate the brain’s reward system. And as social currency or capital, they contribute to a “herd“ mentality.
By limiting the perceived popularity that can artificially drive posts, Facebook might also help reduce the noise on its platform. In theory, content and videos that might otherwise get buried could stand a better chance of rising to the surface.
Brands and influencers obsessed with likes may have to face a sea change in how they evaluate success. But notably, while the public-facing likes counter may go away, the underlying data collection — and the business of selling ads against it — appears to be staying put.