Facebook hides like counts in experiment, too

First look at Facebook’s unreleased experiment to hide like counts following Instagram

By Jane Manchun Wong on 

After uncovering Instagram’s prototype to hide the public like counts of photos and their subsequent public experiments in several regions around the world, Facebook has followed suit and begin working to hide the public like counts, too!

First of all, I would like to make it clear in advance that I do not work at Facebook or Instagram. I appreciate the feedback, but I can only spectate the unreleased features and I have no direct controls on Facebook’s product decisions.

I cannot stress this enough because I was swarmed by hundreds of angry Instagram users the last time when I uncovered Instagram’s hidden like count experiment demanding me to stop the feature from rolling out as if I worked at Instagram. Don’t shoot the messenger! I am just here to show you a possible future of Facebook. Thank you!

Anyways...

I observed that Facebook has recently begun prototyping this hidden like/reaction count feature in their Android app by reverse-engineering the app and playing with the code underneath.

Currently, with this unreleased feature, the like/reaction count is hidden from anyone other than the creator of the post, just like how it works on Instagram. The list of people who liked/reacted will still be accessible, but the amount will be hidden.

Interestingly, likes/reaction counts on comments are not yet hidden for now. But this could be due to the nature of this feature being in an early stage of development. As always, things will be polished eventually.

The fact that Instagram initially tested their hidden like counts feature in Canada, and then subsequently in more regions around the world, and then now Facebook is working on it too, indicates Facebook/Instagram have confidence the pros of hiding like counts outweigh the cons.

By hiding the like/reaction counts from anyone other than the post creator, users might feel less anxious about the perceived popularity of their content. Studies have shown that social media use may influence mental health, including leading to depression and anxiety. [1][2][3]

In fact, the first known effort to curb the bias by metrics is first introduced back in 2012 by Ben Grosser, a professor (graduate student at the time) at University of Illinois who created “Facebook Demetricator” , a Chrome extension that modifies Facebook’s website to remove the visibility of like counts.

It takes time to develop, observe, research and release experimental features like this. Experimental features could come and go. But I am certain hiding the public like counts will be beneficial to the digital wellbeing of a large chunk of users.

References

  1. Strickland, Amelia, “Exploring the Effects of Social Media Use on the Mental Health of Young Adults” (2014). HIM 1990-2015. 1684.
  2. Seabrook, Elizabeth M et al. “Social Networking Sites, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review.” JMIR mental health vol. 3,4 e50. 23 Nov. 2016
  3. Grosser, Benjamin. “What do metrics want? How quantification prescribes social interaction on Facebook.” Computational Culture (2014).

Jane Manchun Wong © 2019