Facebook has announced they are rolling out a new trial where they won’t publicly show the number of likes on posts, much like they recently did with Instagram.
Their reasoning sounds sensible enough.
“The apparent objective is to bring back the focus on the quality of content shared, rather than only on posting content designed to increase the Like count,” writes Monojoy Bhattacharjee in What’s New In Publishing.
“A spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s owner, told BBC that ‘this test only makes your like count private to others, so that you’re able to focus less on likes and more on telling your story,’” a Facebook spokesperson is quoted as saying in Bhattacharjee’s article.
They say the move could prevent users from feeling bad if their posts don’t get enough likes, and could make it more likely that people will post and not self-censor. It could also incentivize brands to publish better content, trading in the ego thrill of a ton of likes for the rewards of publishing content that matters.
“It seems logical that Facebook’s hiding of Likes will have a similar impact on those who use the platform for business, including publishers,” Bhattacharjee continues. “With Likes possibly becoming less of a determinant of content popularity, focus on community building and content quality will increase.”
Like most things coming out of Team Z, it’s good to look a little deeper when you are evaluating motive. Josh Constantine writing in Tech Crunch posits there may be something else going on here.
“When we asked Facebook, the company confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s considering testing removal of Like counts,” he writes.
“Removing Like counts could put less pressure on users and encourage them to share more freely and frequently, as I wrote in 2017. It could also obscure Facebook’s own potential decline in popularity as users switch to other apps. Posts not getting as many Likes as they used to could hasten the exodus.”
(Facebook lost more than 15 million U.S. users over the past two years, as scandals, data leaks and rabid false news narratives made many of us choose to walk. This reason is not outside the realm of possibility. Of the users that remain, time on site is trending down.)
Like it or not, the company was just hit with another data breach, as 200 million-member phone numbers were exposed in an online database, according to the BBC. The database, which was apparently created using the now-defunct “search user by phone” feature, has been taken offline.
The good news here is removing like counts may force readers to make informed decisions on content, rather than just liking anything that’s popular. Of course, the key is for publishers to stop relying on vanity metrics to gauge the success of their content. Quality attention is the only attention worth striving for. Like it or not.