If one happens to visit Facebook’s headquarters in California’s Silicon Valley, the iconic thumbs-up sign could be seen placed outside the main entrance. This expresses the extent upon which Facebook became synonymous with “likes”.
However, as part of social media platforms’ efforts to reduce the stress correlated with the usage of their apps, Facebook is rethinking the feature of likes.
This may have come after the many studies that have found a relationship between stress and anxiety and social media usage frequency and duration of use, especially among youth, which make up the bulk of social media users.
Facebook has recently announced that it will roll out a test in Australia that will include hiding the number of likes, reactions, and the number of views on videos from posts. However, those metrics will still be available to the author of the post to see.
This test will apply to posts of pages and users, in addition to ads, and will slowly reach the majority of Facebook’s users in Australia. If successful, this will then arrive at other countries.
A Facebook spokesperson announced in a statement “We are running a limited test where like, reaction and video view counts are made private across Facebook. We will gather feedback to understand whether this change will improve people’s experiences”.
Facebook has previously claimed its consideration to hide likes earlier this month.
In a similar manner, Facebook-owned Instagram announced on April of this year, as part of the aim to reduce pressure on its platform, that it will start testing hiding the number of likes in Canada, where an Instagram spokesperson said “We are testing this because we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get”.
Instagram’s experiment then expanded to reach six other countries: Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Italy, and Ireland. Nonetheless, the platform didn’t share any data of the trial to the public.
Both Facebook’s and Instagram’s new feature of hiding likes enables users to view reactions on posts as “[name of user] and others, where they can see the list of users who have reacted, without being able to see the number.
It is still not clear whether those tests will receive positive reviews from the largest percentage of users of both platforms, however, some insights could already be encountered. For instance, concerns are being expressed by Instagram influencers around the tests, especially those who have built a business because of it, since those of them working with brands on sponsored content is partly paid based on the engagement of their posts, which includes the number of likes.
However, the new feature will have less of an impact on Facebook’s influencers, according to Kamiu Lee, CEO of influencer marketing platform Activate, mostly because “Instagram is a much bigger platform in the influencer space,” as she said.
On the contrary, the director of policy for Facebook Australia; Mia Garlick, explained to the Australian Associated Press that positive feedback is already being heard from a large number of mental health organizations, and anti-bullying groups they work with.
This move will possibly make users more comfortable to share things on the platforms, as the removal of the number of likes decreases negative comparisons between users, and helps them focus on the quality of the content being posted rather on the number of reactions as Garlick explained.
It still remains unclear whether a genuine relationship could be established between the mental health of social media platforms users and likes. Some studies find no evidence of a relationship, while others propose that individuals who tend to be self-critical may possibly interpret fewer likes as a threat to their self-worth. As a psychology professor at Northwestern University; Renee Engeln, previously told CNN Business “Likes are powerful because they are immediate feedback,”, “In a way, likes give you the same kind of hit like a gambler gets at a slot machine.”
Although the area of research on mental health and social media is still new and emerging, it is important that social media platforms, especially tech giants, take initiatives to curb rising mental health concerns linked to the usage of their platforms, especially since they occupy a large proportion of people’s time and lives.
Tune in for next week’s edition of #SocialSpeak, to stay aware of the latest updates across social media.