The Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. Facebook is moving to limit the importance of Likes and other metrics. On Sept. 26, the social network said it was starting a test in Australia where people’s Likes, video view counts and other measurements of posts would become private to other users. It is the first time the company has announced plans to hide the numbers on its platform. Facebook said it had not decided whether to roll out the experiment beyond Australia. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
SAN FRANCISCO — For years, people who use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have chased Likes as a status symbol. More Likes on a social media post meant it was popular, engaging and worthwhile.
To gain Likes, people were sometimes motivated to post messages and videos that they had calibrated to go viral. That helped lead to a proliferation of violent, radical or otherwise extremist content on social media that set tongues wagging.
Now Facebook is moving to limit the importance of Likes and other metrics.
On Thursday, the social network said it was starting a test in Australia, where people’s Likes, video view counts and other measurements of posts would become private to other users. It is the first time the company has announced plans to hide the numbers on its platform. Facebook said it had not decided whether to roll out the experiment beyond Australia.
“We will gather feedback to understand whether this change will improve people’s experiences,” said Jimmy Raimo, a Facebook spokesman. He added that the site wanted to be a place where people felt comfortable expressing themselves.
For years, internet health advocates have pushed Facebook to stop prioritizing Like counts, arguing that the metrics have a negative impact on people’s self-esteem. “We know that kids seek validation via the Like button. We know that it can negatively affect kids’ and teenagers’ self-esteem,” said Jim Steyer, chief executive of the nonprofit Common Sense Media. “The public is finally waking up to how many of these tactics can be manipulative.”
Facebook has also been under fire for the amount of extreme content on its site and the effect those posts and videos have on people’s lives. As users have tried to draw attention for their posts, they have livestreamed killings on the social network and posted conspiracy theories. Social media influencers have also racked up Likes — sometimes by purchasing them — and made money by promoting products to their followers.
Instagram, the photo-sharing site owned by Facebook, also began hiding some Likes and other metrics this year as part of an experiment intended to make users feel happier about the time they spend on the platform.
Adam Mosseri, who runs Instagram, told BuzzFeed News in April that people often worried about not getting a high enough number of Likes on their photos. Under the experiment, people could still see the number of likes on their own posts, but the number was not publicly displayed.
This could create “a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves,” Mosseri said at the time.
At Instagram, the change was inspired partly by the rising popularity of Stories, where people post photos and videos that expire after 24 hours. Views and reactions to Instagram Stories have always been private. Instagram Stories emulates the Stories feature of Snapchat, the social media platform whose chief executive, Evan Spiegel, has talked publicly about not using online measurements to incentivize people’s behavior.
In Australia, Facebook said it planned to study whether users would continue to comment and to Like posts even if they could not see the number of their peers who were also doing so.
©2019 New York Times News Service