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Facebook tries hiding Like counts to fight envy (techcrunch.com)
130 points by nradov 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, I suspect that the recent trend of social media platforms hiding engagement metrics has less to do with fighting 'envy' than simply allowing for more authentic looking proliferation of promoted content. I came to this conclusion from using Instagram after their recent change to hide 'likes'. Even more conspiratorially, I imagine it also helps the platform hide and demote content that is ideological unfavourable or competitive to the platform.

[throwaway for obvious reasons]

As one of the people who initiated the hidden likes test on Instagram, I can confidently and authoritatively say you're incorrect. There was no ill intent. It was solely to see if we could make people feel less self conscious by decreasing social comparison. Our hope was to decrease the pressure normal people feel about sharing their lives with their friends and family. We thought this might improve some long-term metrics, but once we discussed the rationale for the test with leadership, the well-being opportunity trumped any impact on metrics--positive or negative.

Also, we [IG] did this first, and we started it for the right reasons. Blue followed our lead. Believe it or not, there are people who give a shit about well-being at FB.

[edited because jazzy was right that I was too harsh]

Just because you protect your own identity doesn’t save you from reflecting poorly on your employer - O.P. only said they suspected it was the case, no need to call them full of shit

Besides, even if it was proposed with good intentions there could have been other, aligned agendas that helped it make it into the product

Reddit has been fuzzing scores for years to trip up bots, it’s a good strategy, prevents your enemy from having accurate information. [1]

Also demetricating was conceived 7 years ago (!) by Ben Grosser [2]

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/WTF/comments/eaqnf/pardon_me_but_50... [2] https://bengrosser.com/projects/facebook-demetricator/

[edit Thanks for the edit]

Re demetricating: I've only been on HN for a few years, so I don't know much about its UI's history. But since it's also partially demetricated (not showing votes on comments except for your own posts), could it be considered an earlier example of demetrication?

I'd agree HN is an example of demetrification. I would add a caveat though: HN's opaque rules about rankings, flagging, when to silently ignore votes, etc would drive me crazy if I didn't trust that the people running it genuinely want a good community for hackers. Give Facebook the same power, and I'd assume such powers would be used for nefarious purposes, and I'd find myself (rightly or wrongly) calling half the posts in my feed part of some sort of conspiracy.

> Believe it or not, there are people who give a shit about well-being at FB.

This is undoubtedly true of most maligned corporations out there, they are enabled by many well-intentioned people, but the physics of the situation remain. If something makes a meaningful dint to the bottom line (in a way that can't be offset by intangibles like public-relations wins etc.), someone at a higher-level is likely to veto it. This is where organized labor can be a force for good by facilitating internal protest.

Not sure why your comment is so aggressive and defensive. OP acknowledged they were being conspiratorial.

Also there might not be any explcit intent for your team to impelemt the above but sometimes these things emerge as slow influence that comes from the guiding hand of top level influence over time. A healthy dose of skepticism regarding social media is more than warranted, you can't be upset that anyone would be led to think that after the 2 decades of such decisions made by social media giants

And I think very few people or companies do things for a single reason. There is always a list of pros and cons.

>Not sure why your comment is so aggressive and defensive.

Especially given Facebook's atrocious track record

I'd like to see your original comment.

I don't presume to know the full story of how this feature came to be inside your company, I'm assuming from your comment that this initiative was created organically by employees for noble reasons. Do you admit the possibility that management may have had different motivations to agree to this idea? There's no reason why both of us can't be correct. You might have your own incentive behind this idea, management might have another.

>Believe it or not, there are people who give a shit about well-being at FB.

Under the assumption that you place yourself among them, I'd suggest not writing "you are full of shit" when you disagree with what someone wrote. They simply stated that it was their suspicion, and went so far as to highlight that it may sound conspiratorial.

edit: comment has been edited - appreciated

Yep. You're totally right. Which is why I edited my comment.

>Our hope was to decrease the pressure normal people feel about sharing their lives with their friends and family.

My question is: do you honestly think that people should share their private lives with their friends and family through a public, global platform owned by a giant corporation? Maybe that's part of the problem.

Social media is either private or public according to how you choose to make it.

You can have your IG posts set to private and only those who follows you see them. You just have to make sure those you accept their follow request are people you want to share with.

Same for Facebook. One can't have 5,000 Facebook friends and worry about their content being public when you chose to accept friend requests from thousands of people you don't know.

For a very very long time, my Twitter feed was my private journal for things I didn't want to forget because my account was private and wouldn't accept follow request from anyone while I'm able to follow accounts that interests me.

This isn't Facebook's problem as far as I can tell.

Is it really impossible you and your team were mislead into thinking that hiding likes was for the wellbeing of the user? You may not have had ulterior motives but someone higher up may have.

Trust is the opposite of weight loss - easier lost than gained.

While I trust and respect your stance, you may have been just a "useful idiot" in this.

It'd be a good thing, if it's left to stand. You _should_ be happy/proud about _that_. But I'd not waste my life going out of my way to advocate for the rationale behind it.

Company behavior is an emergent phenomenon. It doesn't need to correspond to the will of the individual employees, specially not of those outside the chain of command.

Interesting phallacy.. a form of circular self-referencing argumentum ab auctoritate.

As a former sales rep for Yelp, I can relate to being on the inside of an operation that was accused of conspiracy when, in fact, no conspiracy existed. It's frustrating.

I don't agree with a LOT of what Facebook (and Instagram) does, but I also don't think everything they do is with the intent of evil.

You cited user engagement on the platform as a reason for taking that action. Is that any really different than the above conspiracy theory?

I know it's hard to shed the received narrative that FB = evil, and even if it was easy you probably wouldn't want to because it feels good and right to reinforce that belief.

However, I think I was pretty clear.

"It was solely to see if we could make people feel less self conscious by decreasing social comparison." - the main goal

"Our hope was to decrease the pressure normal people feel about sharing their lives with their friends and family." - if we achieve the main goal, this ~might~ happen.

"We thought this might improve some long-term metrics" - on the off chance this happens, we ~might~ benefit in the long run.

Is this really different from "I suspect that the recent trend of social media platforms hiding engagement metrics has less to do with fighting 'envy' than simply allowing for more authentic looking proliferation of promoted content" ?

I think so. Seems like a pretty indirect way of driving user engagement.

It's pretty funny how you imply I'm saying facebook is evil because it makes me feel good - pretty ridiculous statements in light of what I've actually said. I was just saying facebook is a business. It seems you have a lot to prove though. Sorry, I don't buy that "It was solely to see if we could make people feel less self conscious by decreasing social comparison" is the main goal. It seems like a pretty direct way of driving user engagement, seeing as you're literally removing an inhibitor of engagement.

>It's pretty funny how you imply I'm saying facebook is evil because it makes me feel good

Yup, I've found its a typical reaction from Facebook employees on this site to attack commenters and rationalize any time negative critiques are brought up, although the extreme defensiveness is pretty telling

This trail reminds me of the "are we the baddies" comedy routine.

It is difficult to predict how people react with limited information. I think hypothesis for this change was "well being might improve but we're not sure" and at the same time "engagement might drop because there might be folks out there who enjoy collecting likes and this makes it less fun but we're not sure". And it's hard to tell what the results will look like based purely on speculation.

I don't know what makes you certain you know the answers even though you've looked at none of the data. Do you have some other sources?

I said it SEEMS like a PRETTY direct way of promoting engagement. It really seems like you're trying to misrepresent what I actually said and may main point.

It might be better to allow people to make their own choices instead of forcing something on them. Your reasoning is going to be wrong or irrelevant for many.

> As one of the people who initiated the hidden likes test on Instagram, I can confidently and authoritatively say you're full of shit

As somebody who followed the stories about FB and it's practices in the recent years, I can confidently tell you that by now it is obvious that FB as a company is acting like a sociopathic entity. Even if the individuals working there believe they are doing good, the outcome as a whole always tend to look the opposite.

So even if GP is full of shit, it is way more believabe than what you are saying simply because fits the general narrative about FB - every single thing FB does is about exploiting pesonal data and human behaviour.

I don't believe any of this.

>Believe it or not, there are people who give a shit about well-being at FB.

If people really cared about the well being of others, they wouldn't work at Facebook. I'm sure the fat checks are nice though

With the parting comment in mind, that there are people who give a shit at FB, how do you/they reconcile putting a lot of effort into managing user envy, when we have a much bigger problem caused by FB, in that it is actively feeding a single perspective to each user to further entrench that viewpoint (with the objective of selling advertising) when it could achieve a lot more worldly good by providing alternate viewpoints. The practice of pushing more alt right to the alt rights, or more leftist content to liberals is strengthening tribalism and as a result doing far more damage to society than 'like envy' would ever do. Please don't see this as a challenge or an attack, I'm really curious to know how this sits with FB employees, climate change is threatening the planet but tribalism is threatening democracy and FB is feeding that monster.

Is the issue of anxiety and depression among Gen Z being brought to the center stage internally at FB? I’d feel a whole lot better about the company if I knew that an actual effort was being made to right some wrongs in it’s wake of addiction profiteering. The optimist in me sees this feature as a step in a more humane direction.

I feel sympathy for those who feel this envy but don't share it.

When I realised what this thing is, I realised it's a nothingburger for me.

Pity I can't control the monster instead of having some decisions, made in a remote conference room, that are no use to me, rammed down my throat.

Did you even consider an option to give people choice on that matter? Two choices actually: whether to share like count on their posts and to see it on others' posts.

If that happened then there will be no benefit of the initiative.

You have your feature turned on? Well that's because you're a big shot and you feel you'll get the likes to show it off.

You have your feature turned off? Well that's because you know you simply won't get any likes and we all know that. Now you're 'depressed'.

This is wild, but I definitely see this being a thing. Already YouTube allows hiding like/dislike counts, and its used frequently when a company puts out a video that is overwhelmingly disliked, but people who are new to the content wouldn't know.

"Comments are disabled for this video" is the 21st century red flag for "this video is dogshit and controversial but the uploaded still wants the ad money / view count".

I'd entirely disagree. Anything to do with politics brings out the creepy-crawlies. Look at the comments on any news orgs videos. All conspiracy theory and bots. Go to smaller channels with a non-political or economic niche and the comments section are actually nice.

I wouldn't trust any Facebook operation. You know what they try to maximize

Sounds like a strategy credit!


I agree with you. Also, they could be trying to hide their fake users problem. Source is dubious, but still:


For facebook atleast, I think it also helps them hide the decline of people using the site. Like when myspace stopped showing the last time people were logged in.

> I imagine it also helps the platform hide and demote content that is ideological unfavourable or competitive to the platform.

I'd say it also helps the platform hide a potential fake users problem. For instance, you can no longer see the low engagement on users' posts who paid for followers.

That's exactly what I mean. It would allow for a more organic looking promotion of paid content. If you were able to see all engagement metrics, you may wonder why your favorite off-beat content, with much higher engagement is de-prioritized in favor of content with much lower levels of engagement.

These days, "conspiracy theory" just means something happened in broad daylight that our betters would prefer us not to dwell upon.

Don't "risk" sounding conspiratorial. Embrace sounding conspiratorial!

My anecdotal experience is that people, in general, are less engaged with Facebook. What used to be news about friends are now shares of some political news source. And the number of people liking or commenting has gone down.

In my circles, what used to be one hundred likes now is a dozen. Most posts only have one or two likes.

If this trend is similar across Facebook to hide the counts makes sense to hide the lack of interest.

Or, it could be that Facebook has changed and they are changing their business model. My bet is that hey really want to hide the lack of interaction and still don't care for the results of their actions.

It may because that is the trend as you get older. As a late 20-something my (and my friends) engagement with social media is somewhat reduced. I don't have any content on facebook and don't even have instagram or snapchat. My friends tend to engage less on all of these platforms.

But I'm not sure what I am experiencing is true for other age groups. My boomer generation parents still use facebook heavily as does my early 20s cousin. I suspect there is just a general move away from social media in certain age brackets, but not in others.

It picks up once people start having kids.

It does - kinda. What I’ve noticed is that as I and friends and relatives my age are having kids the pics aren’t going on FB so much. Instead, perhaps fueled by paranoia of over sharing or distrust in these platforms we post our kid pics on private groups like Apple Photos Shared albums or large family only WhatsApp and Viber groups.

I also feel cognisant that my kid, though they’re too tiny to debate the matter, is too young to give consent to me posting their picture all over social media. So I think something more complex might be going on here.

Or it could be my own cognitive bias reading into the situation and seeing something that isn’t there.

How much of that is just you and your crowd getting older and your social circle getting smaller?

Make some younger and cuter FB friends that have growing social circles because they're in uni and you'll see some impressive numbers on the scoreboard again.

I think this explains a lot more of HNer commentary on FB than people like to admit. "In my personal experience, only old people use FB. My feed is full of parents posting about their children, ugh. FB didn't use to be like this when I was in uni 12 years ago!"

My anecdotal experience is that the "younger and cuter" crowd has moved on to Instagram, or even Snapchat. Many more options in social media than 12 years ago.

There are less options compared to back then.

Nevermind MySpace,friendster, Hi5 or xing you had the biggest aol. Then you had messenger programs (aim, icq, yahoo, msn, etc). You had irc.

You had blogging or photo communities like flickr or meetup.com for events.

Facebook, twitter and reddit were around just not as popular.

Around the time of the parent comment, 12 years ago, Facebook was eating everyone else's lunch.

Friendster was dead, Myspace was in decline (mainly because FB opened up to everyone besides college students), nobody I knew in the USA used Hi5 or xing.

Flickr, meetup, and IRC existed and still exist but they were never the primary social network for the "younger and cuter" college crowd.

If you wanted to connect with your cute classmate 12 years ago, it was almost certain she had a Facebook. It would no longer be certain today.

I actually miss the 2007-era Facebook. No likes, no timeline algorithm, no shares/reposts made for a fun experience at the time.

Young people don't use Facebook anymore. Instagram and Snapchat are where they're at.

> Instagram and Snapchat are where they're at.

This is true, but...

> Young people don't use Facebook anymore.

That's an oft repeated trope, but you sure about that?


The level of engagement of Gen-Z is much lower than previous generations on Facebook, but most college students still use it. The majority of non-Gen-Z Americans are still on Facebook.

Anecdotally, I feel like the way people use Facebook has changed. Most of the people I know who do still use it aren't really using their wall, they're either using messenger, groups, or maybe the marketplace. It also seems like a lot of people my age (early 30s) who say they don't use Facebook, really mean they don't use the wall feature anymore.

If my anecdotal evidence does hold true for the larger population, I think that helps to explain why it feels like everyone is saying they don't use Facebook, but Facebook continues to post solid user numbers.

> most college students still use it

Yeah, they use Messenger to coordinate group projects and homework...

yeah, back in the day random posts were quite common. now i only see major events in peoples lives only. its like a personal life linkedin

Imagine how much has been hidden from you with advertisements in their place.

I don't believe it's to fight envy. Don't give them that much credit. I can't speak for Facebook as I'm not familiar with their interface, but I can for Instagram.

Prolific users tend to hit a wall that paralyses them. As their audience grows, they go from comfortably posting whatever takes their fancy to fretting over metrics and all the gaming that goes on. Is this photo good enough? Is it spectacular? Will it struggle to get stats and embarrass me?

I've seen people go from regular users to just seizing up and posting nothing for weeks on end. Longer they pause, the bigger the pressure to resume. One friend of mine was basically full-time on Instagram as an influencer and then just stopped for months and months.

I think if they're hiding likes, it's almost entirely because it's hurting their overall engagement, not because they care about people.

I believe that the plan to hide likes on Instagram is to help FB get a larger cut of the influencer revenue stream. If influencers can't readily prove their value to ad-buyers without getting analytics data from Instagram, buyers will turn to Instagram either for those data or simply place ads directly with Instagram.

I'd bet a large chunk people who read HN have spent the past decade or more working on one thing: increase user engagement. I am one of them for sure.

All the networks seem to be realizing that wasn't such a grand idea and are now experimenting with unraveling these features. It's an implicit admission we've all been wasting our time making the world a worse place.

Maybe I'm wrong but I was under the impression that the vast majority software is written for business use, not for consumer use.

I wouldn't be so quick to assume 'increase user engagement' is going away anytime soon.

It's not just a feature, it's the core business model.

As much as I wish this were true, as long as revenue and engagement are closely linked I seriously doubt it.

Instagram is their envy-based asset so this makes sense since they don't want to cannibalize their businesses.

Instagram is also testing removing like counts. [0]

[0] https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/17/20697943/instagram-hide-p...

So much this. Instagram is, as far as I can see, the most psychologically unhealthy parts of social media, distilled. Why anyone would want to use it I don't know.

I have a strict no-influencer and no memes/politics policy in mine and the resulting feed is a delight. Hobby ideas, good food, friends and family goings on, etc.

All depends on who you follow.

I have multiple accounts and with my personal one, I follow people I know and as you say, it's family outings and so on. Makes it much easier when catching up with acquaintances to have some idea of what's happening in their lives (just had a holiday, renovating their house, tried a restaurant, etc).

Totally in agreement. My feed is wonderful and educational and inspirational. The opposite of envy is a Sanskrit word: Muditā

At an AI conference Stuart Russell said mathematically Envy = Sadism

It really isn't too hard to think of at least a few reasons why people want to use Instagram with minimal effort.

I mostly post stories, as do most people I follow. So there's simply no likes to be had, which works out pretty well. The occasional response/reaction is nice, but it's the exception not the norm, so there's no real expectation of it. Interaction is totally optional. I find it to be a much better system.

How about just removing likes altogether? Facebook is OPTIMIZED for petty flamewars, because that equals engagement and ad views, and the karma system is at the heart of it. I participate in many rock climbing forums (MountainProject, various subreddits) and the climbing groups on Facebook have a unique level of vitriol. It is just a fun sport, not politics, not religion, but somehow FB foments vicious debate in spite of it. I actually saw one group for climbing partners in Canada that the admin shut down because he was sick of how it decayed. I've never seen anything like it.

>Facebook is OPTIMIZED for petty flamewars, because that equals engagement and ad views,

Political disengagement is the modal average political affiliation. Incentives that make partisans angrier and shoutier on your platform are likely to backfire with the politically disengaged.

So maybe in the short run this is true, but over a longer time horizon, fostering an environment where "petty flamewars" proliferate is going to alienate a lot of users, to the point where attrition may outweigh any engagement benefits gained.

I know I'm not the only one who doesn't use Facebook because of crap like this. I didn't go as far as deleting my account, but I haven't logged on in >1 year simply because it had gotten to the level of YouTube comments.

I don't know what specifically Facebook did to encourage that level of vitriol, but for whatever reason I consistently saw more rudeness and bickering on Facebook than anywhere else I spend time online. For instance, I was in a group for vintage Ducati motorcycles, and half the comments were bickering about petty details, whereas posting on a forum would almost always lead to helpful information or compliments on the bike.

Facebook may just be starting to reap what they sowed; petty flame wars definitely drive up engagement for a short period until they start driving other users away. The people involved in the argument definitely check back much more often to ensure they got the last word in, and users leaving isn't always as visible.

This will escalate the impact of trolls on news articles. Currently, a well-received article might have hundreds or thousands of Likes and Loves, next to a 3-5 Laughs from those wishing to troll/deride the content. At least now you can click and see what the distribution is and verify yes, its just a few trolls. With this change, a single troll would surface a laugh which is seemingly on par with the other reactions. It's a poor metric, but this makes it worse.

What do you think about getting rid of the "laugh" reaction? I feel like that could make Facebook less toxic in one stroke, since it is so often used to troll and deride, as you observe. There are non-troll uses of the laugh reaction, to be sure, but the like/love reactions can absorb these.

Troll farms rejoice at this news for sure.

I think they are doing this not because it's helpful to the users. People share garbage all the time. They sometimes feel bad that only one or two people liked their garbage. Now they have no idea, so they will share more garbage and use the site more. I'm done with Facebook entirely. I've been using it since 2011. I never go on it anymore for the past few years. I never update and I deleted everyone who wasn't a close family member as well as make everything private. It's not a product I care to use anymore. I never got on the instagram train and don't plan to. This is from a guy who has 130k subscribers on my YouTube channel and 2500 followers on Twitter. I just don't like Facebook's platform or Instagram. I also hated that Instagram gave my teenage daughter tons of creepy followers. Facebook is most certainly a detriment to society.

I hope this is a step on the road of phasing out "likes" entirely. I really hate the concept. Even on HN, where it works comparatively well (comment score isn't directly visible, new users can't downvote etc) it bothers me, softly nudging me towards making comments that I know will get easy upvotes or not expressing controversial sentiments. At the end of the day you can't really get around the fact that these systems encourage people to post "popular" content. That helps filter out the true trash, but ultimately leads to monoculture, in my opinion.

I don't know if the 500 karma rule for enabling downvotes is enough any more with the number of throwaway accounts I see on here. If would be nice if the vote history were visible for a given account to see if people were using temporary accounts for trolling the vote system. A single user with several throwaway accounts, each over 500 karma, could add a false perception of actual user activity.

I only got 500 karma quite recently myself, though getting from 500 to 750 took no time at all. I think you could get karma pretty quickly if you really try hard for it by trying to get to posts as early as possible and saying the obvious thing that everyone is thinking, but I don't think you could really scale this up to a meaningful number of accounts.

I don't think you could really do much damage, also because posts themselves (as opposed to comments) can't be downvoted (unless that's behind some other karma milestone I can't reach yet).

I'm not sure is that easy to achieve 500 karma with a throwaway account... Not to mention with many

Here are 2 of them with 4000 and 7000 karma. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21051459

Acquiring karma is a game. If you know how to play to game you can get a 1000 in a week easily. Its much easier to gain karma than lose karma though.

Idk.. I'm only at 357 and it's been years!

Thank you, well put and I agree with your conclusion.

I am interested in seeing the effects on Politicians and News Media (not actual journalists but the talking head/news reader/podcaster/blogger/standup comedian/outrager class).

Social media metrics deeply influence their behavior (and the behavior of their fan clubs). Too many of them justify what they do because they think the like counts validate it.

> If the test improves people’s sense of well-being without tanking user engagement, it could expand to more countries

So presumedly Facebook has a metric that models a user’s well being and values engagement more.

> hidden from everyone else who will only be able to see who but now how many people gave a thumbs-up or other reaction.

if you can see a list of who has reacted, you can still tally it up to see what the number of reactions are

Likes have turned into emperor new clothes for content.

Chocolate cake while cool everyone will like it.

Me sharing my dog is missing or I have a garage sale gives actual value to the platform.

Thank God I can see still the likes. To know if I'm valuable or not and my peers approve of me.

Comment count is still visible, which is probably just as much an enviable metric.


Please don't do this here.


Damn those are some rough texts to read. Sadly, mental health is really under-rated in the United States. I really hope people learn to push back on management when they start asking for more when it is beyond reasonable expectations. We all work for a paycheck, but we are also entitled to dignity, respect, and a semblance of stability. No pay is worth being degraded and mistreated in the way that makes you feel like the above people linked.

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