Facebook has been undergoing a trial run of removing “like” counts from posts. The hope is that hiding counts will improve users’ mental health, without deterring them from liking content.
Facebook prototypes hiding like counts [via Jane Manchun Wong]
If Facebook decides to make the change permanent for all users, the result would be similar to the above example. The like count is hidden, while the list of reactors is still available for manual summation. In other examples, like counts will still be visible to those who post them and hidden from the public.
Like counts have become the subject of these tests because of the negative effect they can have on mental health. To many users, like counts act as a “social score” by which one’s status and value are assessed.
A 2016 study by UCLA measured student’s brain activity while viewing assorted social media posts, some of which were their own, and all of which were assigned like counts by researchers. Researchers found that when shown that their post had received numerous likes, students were significantly more likely to exhibit high self-esteem.
“Likes are powerful because they are immediate feedback,” says Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. “In a way, likes give you the same kind of hit like a gambler gets at a slot machine.”
This experiment follows a series of similar tests run by Instagram in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and other countries. This study has already received positive feedback from some users, who feel less susceptible to the opinions of their followers.
Mia Garlick, Director of Policy for Instagram Australia and New Zealand, has this to say: “We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.”
The trial has received negative feedback as well. Small businesses who rely on their social media presence are worried that the change will severely impact how customers engage with ecommerce. According to Mellissah Smith of Redeye Marketing, medium and small business owners may have to pay more to make up for the loss of their advertisements’ likes.
This concern isn’t unwarranted. A survey of Canadian content creators found that many users saw a drop in their likes, decreased follower growth, and less interaction via comments. The same 2016 study by UCLA found that students were much more likely to like a post if it already had numerous likes.
This could be a major concern for Facebook. The test is supposed to determine if hiding like counts will determine users from liking posts. If the Instagram trials are any indication, Facebook likes will fall, and that could mean a huge loss for Facebook’s sponsors. This move could be detrimental to Facebook’s business.
On the other hand, it could be exactly what Facebook wants. While businesses may or may not suffer from decreased traffic, social media influencers are almost certain to feel the impact. And that could be what Facebook is counting on.
Some social media analysts are betting that this outcome is Facebook’s intended result. By removing the influence of influencers, Facebook could hold sway over an aspect of the social media industry it does not yet have.
The industry of social media influencers accounts for an estimated $6.5 billion, a number which is quickly growing. By limiting the effectiveness of influencers, Facebook could hold the industry hostage until it can find a way to cut in, or destroy it all together.
– Andrew DeJongh