Look out, people; you may have to find a new way to measure your self-worth. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it has begun testing the removal of Likes on both its eponymous platform and its new darling, Instagram.
Likes have long served as a sort of barometer of success, validity, or attention on Facebook, offering a sort of metric for users to gauge how many people are tuning in to their posts. For users, having these sort of numbers may entice more posts and, as a result, more time on the platform. Instead, studies show that this competitive edge to content can actually discourage the use of social media. If users don’t think they’re content is as impressive and engaging as other people’s dog photos, food photos, and pictures of honeymoons in exotic places, they may not post at all, or worse, quit the platform altogether.
How we use Facebook has changed as much as who uses Facebook over the past few years. More mundane, every-day posts that used to dominate the platform (dogs, plates of food, selfies of people at Costco) have shifted over to Instagram or get tucked away into 24-hour Stories. At least on Facebook, big life events tend to get posted and get Likes; compared to that, posts don’t tend to get much love. As a result, fewer people are posting and they spend less time on the platform as a result.
Facebook began testing as early as this past spring, removing the actual ‘Like’ count for certain users’ posts in Canada, a test that soon spread to other countries like Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and more. Instead of a Like count, it simply displayed a few names of users that had liked the most. The company has declined to release any more information on the tests, so it’s pretty tough to say how much it affected the frequency of posting in affected accounts.
It appears that same testing has found its way to the United States and to Facebook as another way for Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth to shore up a steady decline in popularity. More posting means more eyes on the site, and with it comes more advertising dollars. There may be some non-monetary benefits, too. There’s plenty of research that supports the theory that passive social media use, which is best described as mindlessly scrolling through platforms rather than actively seeking information or content, can have a negative impact on our mental health. Removing Likes as a measure or goal could reduce that stress, anxiety, and disappoint from posting.
We might not hear about any concrete plans to completely remove likes from these platforms until Facebook can determine that they encourage more traffic, more posts, and more ad revenue, but over the next several months, watch for Like counts to shift on Facebook and mimic Instagram. If they keep people’s eyes on the screen longer, expect the changes to become permanent.
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