- Facebook said it is "considering" hiding the number of "likes" a post receives, but offered no details or timeline.
- The feature is similar to one that Facebook-owned Instagram is testing outside the U.S.
In some countries, posts on Facebook's Instagram service don't show how many "likes" they got. Now, that change could be coming to Facebook's News Feed.
"[W]e are considering hiding like counts from Facebook," a Facebook spokesman said in an email.
With this feature, a post's creator would be able to see the number of people who "liked" it, but the tally wouldn't be displayed. The tool was first noted by Jane Manchun Wong, an engineer who spotted it in Facebook's code.
Instagram rolled out this option earlier this year in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. It's not clear when, if ever, Instagram will make the feature available to U.S. users.
Twitter, too, has considered hiding a tweet's likes and retweets behind a tap as a way to make conversations easier to follow. If Facebook takes a similar tack, it could mean the company is getting serious about making sure its users' time is "well spent" on the platform.
In early surveys, some Instagram users have suggested that not seeing likes will improve their mental health, while others worried the change makes it more difficult for them to promote products on the platform.
Some evidence suggests that showing how many favorable responses a post gets adds a competitive dimension to social networks, and the practice has been linked to decreases in mental health. A 2017 study in the U.K. found that, of all major social media platforms, Instagram had the worst effect on young people's mental health. Spending more than two hours a day on social media was linked with "increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep," the report found.
Meanwhile, 2016 UCLA study found that teenagers are heavily influenced by the number of "likes" on a post, and are more likely to engage with a post if many other people have already done so. The like button transforms "the human need for personal worth, within the confines of capitalism, into an insatiable 'desire for more,'" researcher Benjamin Grosser wrote in a 2012 paper.
It remains to be seen if changing the like button would help or hurt Facebook's ad revenue. If users feel less anxious and respond by spending more time on the platform, that's a good thing for the company and for advertisers. But doing away with "like" counts could have a negative effect on social-media influencers, who must be able to show high numbers of reactions from their followers to get sponsorships.
"The money we spend for clients on Facebook and Instagram in the form of sponsored ads doesn't necessarily hinge too much on the number of likes an ad gets," said Joe Yakuel, CEO of Agency Within, a digital marketing firm. "This is very different for influencers. ... For that kind of ecosystem, not having likes on a post can affect an advertiser's ability to understand how much to pay for a post."
However, the move could also help newer entrants to the platform by leveling the field, Yakuel said. "This really democratizes the platform... making it just about the content and less about who you are."