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.
Like-chasing on Instagram significantly also helped create an environment where people posted to gain clout and notoriety, 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 decided for its users, it would anger one side or the other — even if the move in either direction didn’t impact other core metrics, like app usage.
“How many likes [users] got, or other people got — it turned out that it didn’t change nearly as much about the experience, in terms of how people felt or how much they use the experience, as we thought it would. But it did end up being pretty polarizing,” admitted Instagram head Adam Mosseri. “Some people liked it, and some people didn’t.”
“For those who liked it, it was mostly what we had hoped — which is that it depressurized the experience. And, those who didn’t use Likes to get a sense of what was trending or relevant on Instagram and Facebook. And they were just super annoyed that we took it away,” he added. This latter group sometimes included smaller creators still working on establishing a presence across social media, though more prominent influencers were sometimes in favor of Like removals. (Mosseri name-checked Katy Perry as being pro Like removals, in fact.)
Ultimately, the company decided to split the difference. Instead of making a hard choice about the future of its online communities, it’s rolling out the “no Likes” option as a user-controlled setting on both platforms.
On Instagram, both content consumers and content producers can turn on or off Like and View counts on posts — which means you can choose not to see these metrics when scrolling your Feed, and you can choose whether to allow Likes to be viewed by others when you’re posting. These are configured as two different settings, which provide for more flexibility and control.