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Facebook tests doing away with "like" counts

How many Facebook likes did that post get? If you're using the network in Australia, you won't know, starting today.

Facebook is testing an effort to hide the public "like" counter on posts in the news feed, it said on Thursday. The change applies to posts from friends and pages as well as paid ads. The experiment is running only in Australia for now, with Facebook saying it is unsure if it will expand to other countries.

The company plans to test whether the change will "improve people's experiences," according to a statement provided to CBS News. A company spokesman added that Facebook wanted users to feel comfortable posting information, part of which included focusing on the quality of the posts and not on how much attention they receive.

Individual users will still be able to access a list of people who have reacted to their posts, but Facebook will no longer display a count of total reactions.

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On left, a sample Facebook post. On right, the same post as seen in Australia, where the company is testing a feature to hide "like" counts to the public. Facebook

Health advocates have long pushed Facebook to hide "like" counts, noting that the tool encourages attention-seeking and potentially extreme content on the platform. A 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.

Since the feature was introduced a decade ago, accruing "likes" has become an obsession in some quarters. An entire influence industry has sprung up, geared toward helping people and companies increase their online influence and grow their number of "likes," sometimes fraudulently.

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If the Australia experiment goes widespread, it could potentially affect the ability of Facebook influencers, who rely on being able to motivate large numbers of online followers, to make money off their activities.

Facebook-owned Instagram is already hiding "like" counts in six countries, betting the change will make for a less anxiety-inducing experience on the app.

But Facebook commands a much larger user base, with 2.3 billion people using the platform at least once a month. It's also the most popular platform for certain types of influential content, including propaganda and disinformation, according to a report released Friday by the University of Oxford.

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