In the world of social media, “likes” are becoming less and less likeable, it appears. Just last month, Instagram announced that it was testing a function that would hide public like counts on posts in select countries. Now, Facebook has followed suit, with recently uncovered plans to test a function that hides the number of post reactions in certain locations.

App researcher Jane Manchum Wong discovered the functionality in the Android version of the app, remarking

I observed that Facebook has recently begun prototyping this hidden like/reaction count feature in their Android app by reverse-engineering the app and playing with the code underneath.

The psychological connection

The possibility of hiding like counts appears to be a relatively new trend in an industry where such reactions were previously basic currency. Criticisms of the negative effects of social media likes on individual psychological well-being, however, are nothing new. Even the co-founder of Facebook, Sean Parker, eviscerated the company in an interview in 2017, saying that it was constructed around the concept of a “social-validation feedback loop” which is “exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with.” With the emergence of statistical evidence supporting this claim in recent years, these concerns are not without foundation. 

With newfound social awareness, Instagram and Facebook (both technically owned by Facebook) are attempting to encourage “organic” interactions and sharing on their platforms.  To the users involved in the testing group for reaction hiding, Instagram explained:

“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who shares a post will see the total number of likes it gets.”

But what about marketers?

Hoping to boost users’ self-esteem is all well and good, but it may create difficulties for marketers. Throughout social media history, likes have served as a metric for positive user engagement and what authors Emily and Sarah Hamilton at The Drum call “social proof.” Should social media giants continue down the path of hiding like counts, marketers may have to innovate strategies that enable them to effectively measure reach and provide “social proof” to users and consumers through alternative means. But maybe content will become more personalized and engagement will be more thoughtful as a result.