To hide or not to hide “likes” on Facebook and Instagram. That will soon be the question facing us all.
The social media apps plan to let you decide if you want to hide the number of “likes” on other people’s posts, turn off the counter for your own posts or leave everything the way it is now. You will even be able change your mind from day to day or post to post.
Instagram is testing the new concept starting Wednesday. It will likely roll out to everyone in the next few weeks. Facebook, which owns Instagram, also plans to give users the option to hide “likes.”
“We’re testing a new option that lets you decide the experience that’s best for you,” Facebook said in a statement.
Giving people more control over “likes” is part of a broader effort to reduce “social comparison,” or how we compare ourselves to others, on social media.
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In 2019, Facebook and Instagram each began hiding tallies for small groups of people in separate experiments to see what happens when social pressure to rack up “likes” goes away.
At the time a growing wave of research showed that social media platforms were contributing to increased anxiety and social isolation, putting pressure on Facebook and Instagram to downplay likes, which appear as hearts on Instagram and had become such a key measure of popularity that some social media influencers even purchase them.
Users confessed that seeing the number of “likes” other people’s posts made them feel inadequate. They worried that they were so hopelessly hooked on endorphin hits from “likes” on their own posts that they spent even more time on social media to juice their stats.
Logo of the social network Instagram on a smartphone and a tablet screen (Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE, AFP via Getty Images)
Even worse, they sensed that the time they spent fixated on this artificial measure of self-worth was distancing them from friends and relatives rather than bringing them closer together. Parents worried about the potentially negative psychological effects on kids.
Chasing “likes” had another downside. It motivated people to focus on posts that had the best shot at going viral. The result was a flood of inflammatory and sometimes toxic content, from half-truths and hoaxes to hate speech and violence.
Would hiding “likes” tallies make users happier? Instagram says it wasn’t sure what it would find.
Some people found that when “likes” were hidden, they could express themselves more authentically and with less anxiety about how their posts stacked up against others.
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But hiding “likes” – or downplaying their importance – was not popular with everyone, especially social media influencers who use Instagram to market themselves or their products and need these bursts of social validation like oxygen. Still others say they rely on “likes” to track what’s popular.
People – especially young people – were most comfortable when they could decide for themselves whether to hide “likes” or not, depending on the type of post or their mood, the company said.
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