By hiding likes and video views, Facebook could force publishers to shift strategies
Facebook is running an experiment to hide "like" counts and other public-facing social scores in select markets. The social network confirmed Friday that it started hiding like, reaction and video view counts in a limited test across the social network as part of an effort to improve the atmosphere on the platform.
“We will gather feedback to understand whether this change will improve people’s experiences,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in an e-mail statement to AdAge.
Such a change, if made permanent, could ultimately affect publishers and brands looking for visibility on the social network, according to marketing and publishing execs.
The theory goes that like counts add social undue pressure on the average user, who might begin to put too much weight on how popular (or not) their posts are on Facebook. The rationale goes that if Facebook were to no longer show users how many likes a given post received, then it might generate less anxiety around sharing on Facebook. “People are using the ‘like’ counter as way to measure their self-worth,” says David Cohn, senior director of AlphaGroup, which is a tech incubator within the publishing group Advanced Local.
Likes, or lack thereof, may be stressful for everyday users, but they are partly how publishers and brands measure their actual worth on Facebook. “Just as the likes have been validation for users,” Cohn says, “they have been validating for publishers, as well.”
The like count has historically been one of the inputs that Facebook’s algorithm relies on to determine what posts are most popular and deserve more visibility. Hiding the count could depress people’s urge to hit “like.”
Under the trial system, publishers, brands and users are still shown how many likes their posts receive—the tally is just hidden from the public. Their concern is that the viewers are more inclined to hit the like button when they see others have already clicked, Cohn says. “Removing the like count is a positive for the psychology of the individual,” Cohn says. “But because it changes the dynamic for publishers, it could change their editorial decisions.”
In April, Facebook began testing hiding like counts on Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing app it owns, but the company has been tinkering with its ranking formula for nearly two years now to try to inspire healthier usage. In 2018, Facebook said it would reconfigure the types of posts it shows people in their personalized News Feed, emphasizing messages from friends and family and downplaying less-meaningful content like posts from clickbait-heavy publishers and viral videos. Facebook said it wanted to create a better sense of well-being in a time of digital anxiety.
Rival Snapchat in many ways rose to prominence on a promise of pressure-free sharing, devoid of like buttons and featuring images that disappeared within 24 hours. Facebook even borrowed the disappearing videos feature, stealing the idea for Stories, to encourage more sharing. Twitter, too, has recently begun to rethink how it displays social scores by lowering the visibility of follower counts and experimenting with likes and comments.