After discovering Instagram’s plan to “hide the public like counts of photos,” reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong observed that Facebook may follow suit.
In her September 2, blog, she made clear that she works at neither Big Tech company, but has merely discovered these experiments by “reverse-engineering the app and playing with the code underneath.”
Wong observed that “Facebook has recently begun prototyping this hidden like/reaction count feature in their Android app.”
Much like Instagram’s same experiment, the likes/reaction counts would be hidden from all but the user who created the post.
Wong speculated the reasoning behind this change is that “by hiding the like/reaction counts from anyone other than the post creator, users might feel less anxious about the perceived popularity of their content.”
There are multiple reasons why tech companies have an incentive to do away with this allegedly addictive feature. Business Insider speculated that it is driven by critiques over social media having harmful effects on users’ psychological health.
“A number of key former employees at both Facebook and Google have spoken out regretting the products they helped to create” Business Insider wrote.
The article then cited Leah Perlman, who designed Facebook's "like" button, who confided in The Ringer in 2017 that the notifications had a harmful effect on her wellbeing. "Have you seen that episode of Black Mirror?" she asked. "I just watched that about a month ago, and that haunts me on a pretty regular basis. Because it's not that far off."
Former Google designer Tristan Harris, even launched the Time Well Spent movement to address digital addiction.
Even Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) has made similar critiques of social media in a May 22, opinion piece for USA Today saying “this is a digital drug. And the addiction is the point. Addiction is what [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg is selling.”
He addressed the rising suicide rates among young women saying that while “the study’s authors can’t prove social media is to blame,” observing that they “strongly suspect it plays a critical role.”
However, not all social media companies and their employeesmay have the same reasons for hiding how post reactions are seen.
After numerous liberal videos on YouTube from have been downvoted by millions, YouTube has openly speculated on tactics to combat “dislike mobs.” YouTube’s director of project management Tom Leung discussed a few ideas to combat these “mobs” in his developer blog series.
Among them he described the most extreme measure, which would be to do away with the dislikes button as an option entirely. He noted that this can be problematic, due to the fact that “not all dislikes are from dislike mobs.”
This came after conservatives ratio’d multiple liberal videos, meaning that the amount of dislikes overwhelmed the palty number of likes by comparison. Key examples of these would be Gillette's commercial against “toxic masculinity” and YouTube’s latest installment of its annual Rewind, a yearly recap dedicated to its creative community which alienated its own fanbase with politicization.