Facebook is testing hiding the number of likes users receive on their posts, following a similar move it made on Instagram months prior.
The test, which will hide both likes and video view counts, is being conducted in Australia. Affected users will still be able see their own numbers, but won’t be able to compare them to those of other users. The company has not disclosed whether it plans to expand the test to other countries.
Likes and views have become increasingly important to many users over the past several years. The capability has led to a generation of influencers, who make big money by attracting large followings. But it also has incentivized viral violent and hateful content—a problem Facebook has struggled to police—and has been cited as making people feel worse about themselves as a point of comparison.
Facebook first announced that it was testing hiding likes on Instagram at its annual F8 developer conference in April. During that time, it said that it wanted to place more emphasis on self-expression versus popularity. Instagram's test began in Canada in May and later expanded to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand—suggesting that Facebook was pleased with the initial results.
But two experts say Facebook is not actually solving the problem—rather it’s taking away an important tool that helps create a sense of community.
“Hiding likes on Instagram or Facebook is a double-edged sword,” says Karen North, an expert in social media and psychology and clinical professor of communication at the University of Southern California. “They’re trying to cure the problems of individuals but taking away the coming together of groups.”
North says that in a digital world, users look for social cues that include likes and view counts to understand what’s popular. She also argues that viral campaigns like the ice bucket challenge, a social media campaign that raised awareness for ALS, would not have been the same without the ability to see likes.
Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, says the move goes against people’s nature to compare themselves to others, an activity that can also positively impact people’s happiness.
“Removing the likes that other people have doesn’t change our need to compare ourselves,” she said. “We will have to start looking for the validation of who or what’s important in different kinds of ways.”
Facebook has said in recent years it’s been working to improve how its service impacts people’s happiness and well-being.
Researchers who make up Facebook’s well-being team say that they have found users are less happy when they negatively compare themselves to others on social media. So they’ve spent the last few years working on problems including this one, aiming to improve the company’s impacts on people’s self-esteem and general happiness.