Facebook begins testing in Australia: it will not only hide the total count of likes from users, but also from the other types of reactions that can be expressed towards a post (the famous angry, astonished faces and so on). 

Nothing changes, for the rest: the Like thumb stays in place and the platform will continue to acquire the information linked to that simple but very important gesture, a click, for advertising profiling. From the point of view of digital well-being, however, something could change, they say from California. The objective of Menlo Park, as it happened during the summer also on Instagram, is to understand if and how the elimination of a pressure factor and stress of the genre, an element of perpetual comparison with other users, can come in handy and produce more benefits than problems.

The same move was in fact launched last April on Instagram in Canada to then be extended to six other countries, from Ireland to Brazil, including Italy. “We want followers to concentrate on what you share, not how many likes you have“, the platform explained a few months ago. The first experiments would be churning out structured data in just these weeks: on that basis it will be decided whether to proceed further and widen the darkening of the number of hearts even to other markets or instead go back. 

In short, there was a total number and now it is gone: the pressures on the platforms, accused over the years by multiple sources and studies, of producing stress, in some cases depression and continuous comparisons with the most popular users, have led to such a choice. Which, however, hides some dark sides. Or so to speak, trivially commercial.

On the one hand, in fact, the ‘I like’ logic has not change since 2009, when Facebook transplanted it onto its platform from FriendFeed, an aggregator founded in 2007 and that Mark Zuckerberg had purchased shortly before. The history of the thumb is in fact quite articulated and is linked to the marketing strategies of the nineties born in the world of traditional advertising. That “Like economy” that Carolin Gerlitz  and Anne Helmond talked about in a 2013 book and that Facebook has exploited over time by building its invincible business model around it, the turning point that would have made what it is today: an immense digital continent that draws the vast majority of its turnover from the customised advertising that it submits to us. We can control it and limit it in various ways, it’s true. But these self-help tools have only come over the years. “Senator, we run ads” replied an astonished Zuckerberg at his US Capitol hearing last winter. To do this, you need to know what people like and “I like it” is the main tool to understand it, since they tell it themselves.

On the other hand, on Facebook as on Instagram, for some analysts eliminating the total count could serve to move the promotional and marketing investments of the brands from the variegated world of influencers, which has perhaps assumed too much relevance but which also has other metrics to continue to prosper, to that of internal and organic insertions managed by the platform. In short, to recover money.

Incidentally, the success of a certain post – as the news on Instagram has been implemented – is not complex to derive: by clicking on the word “other people” it is in fact possible to consult the list of all those who have expressed appreciation both on the photo app and on Facebook. Just a quick scroll to see if that post is viral or has picked up the likes of a few users. We therefore have to ask ourselves, wanting for a moment to follow the Samaritan intent of Menlo Park, how this obscuration medium, which leaves the list of Like readings available and continues to show the total count to the author of the content, can really “doing good” to the mental health of those who should feel stressed by the hyper-competitive climate or discouraged by the fact of not being able to gather more appreciation. The problem, for those who live it as such, that is, for those who feel envious of the many Likes collected from the posts of others and sad for the lack of resonance of their own, it remains in the background very clear. It’s just thrown under the rug. It is no coincidence that the company has assured the companies and companies that operate on the platform that they will continue to receive the same data as ever, including Like.

Third element, connected to the previous one: to push the engagement also of the usually silent accounts precisely fighting the discouragement effect. If after all the number of Like you collect is hidden or secondary, even those who feel intimidated by publishing content may begin to do so without the “psychological barrier” of the few followers or even trivial and hardly viral photos. Obviously the more the engagement increases, that is, the more silent users become active and upload photos and videos on social networks, the happier the platforms are. He peacefully admitted it to Guardian Mia Garlic k, director of policy of Facebook Australia.

We are holding a limited test in which the likes, reactions and counts of video views are made private on Facebook – a Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch – we will collect feedback to see if this change improves people’s experiences“. Garlick added to the British newspaper that the change moves from welfare research and comments on the mental health of some professionals, convinced that the number of Like can produce extreme social competition: “It is a matter of eliminating that number from the equation in a way that people can focus on the quality of their interactions and content rather than on the number of Likes or reactions“.