Facebook this week will begin to publicly roll out the option to hide Likes on posts across both Facebook and Instagram, following earlier tests starting in 2019. The project, which puts the decision about Likes in the hands of the company’s global user base, had been in development for years but was deprioritized due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the response work required on Facebook’s part, the company says.
Initially, the idea to hide Like counts on Facebook’s social networks focused on depressurizing users’ experience. Often, users faced anxiety and embarrassment around their posts if they didn’t receive enough likes to be considered “popular.” This problem was complicated for younger users who highly value what peers think of them — so much so that they would take down posts that didn’t receive enough likes.
Significantly, like-chasing on Instagram also helped create an environment where people posted to gain clout and notoriety, which can be a less authentic experience. On Facebook, gaining Likes or other forms of engagement could also be associated with posting polarizing content that required a reaction.
As a result of this pressure to perform, some users grew hungry for a “Like-free” safer space, where they could engage with friends or the broader public without trying to earn these popularity points. That, in turn, gave rise to a new crop of social networking and photo-sharing apps such as Minutiae, Vero, Dayflash, Oggl, and, now, newcomers like Dispo and newly viral Poparazzi. Though Facebook and Instagram could have chosen to remove Likes entirely and take its social networks in a new direction, the company soon found that the metric was too deeply integrated into the product experience to be wholly removed.
One key issue was how today’s influencer community trades on Likes as a form of currency that allows them to exchange their online popularity for brand deals and job opportunities. Removing Likes, then, is not necessarily an option for these users. Instagram realized that if it made a decision for its users, it would anger one side or the other — even if the move in either direction didn’t really impact other core metrics, like app usage.