Let’s Make Likes Private
How ‘Likexiety’ is killing social media and making us all self-conscious
Breaking news: people are sharing less about themselves on Facebook. Why is this happening? (Sharing overall isn’t in decline, just ask Snapchat.) Why are we sharing less on some platforms, and more on others?
I think “Likes” are to blame.
Does this sound familiar?
“Do you think this will get a lot of Likes?”
“Did I pick a bad time to post?”
“Should I delete it?”
This is the sound of a new, very 21st century angst: the fear of not getting enough Likes.
I call it “Likexiety” and I’m afraid it’s killing social media.
It’s almost a truism by now that Likes promote insecurity and narcissism on social media —but what makes Likes so toxic? Nobody is cautioning against the evils of hugs, high fives, or handshakes. How did a concept so benign become so dangerous?
When they were first introduced in 2009, Likes were a mostly level playing field. The only people who liked our posts were those close friends who bothered to make the effort. But through a series of changes to its algorithm, Facebook began promoting well-Liked posts more broadly. This simple change created a feedback loop and posts started receiving hundreds (or even thousands) of Likes under the new model.
This “Like inequality” isn’t unique to Facebook either. Every social media platform can be gamed if you try hard enough, and people quickly learned how. Apps like Instagram and Twitter don’t have caps on friends or followers (Facebook limits you to 5,000) so with a little effort the difference between Likes on those networks can become even more extreme.
So what’s the problem? Although we should know better, we can’t help but fixate on our neighbors’ Likes instead of our own. By looking outwards instead of inwards, we’ve lost sight of the Likes we have received, focusing instead on who else has more. By comparing ourselves to others, we’ve made social media more stressful and less fun. And isn’t that the #1 job of social media? To make sharing fun?
So let’s do something about it. Let’s make Likes private.
How would this work? You could still like content as you do now, but the total number of Likes would be hidden from public view. As the author, your own posts would have Like totals, but without public totals you wouldn’t be able to compare yourself to others. Hasn’t this always been the key to happiness?
In fact, the more you think about it, the more ridiculous public Likes seem. Showing appreciation is best done in private, not as a spectacle for all to see (save for exceptional cases). How did we get duped into thinking it was ordinary to broadcast something so intimate?
I’ve laid out the problem, and one potential solution, but Facebook is a business and I’m a realist. So let me try to illustrate why making Likes private is good for business.
1. Likexiety kills engagement
By eliminating the ability to compare, Facebook will encourage people to start sharing again. How do I know this? Snapchat.
On Snapchat there are no Likes to feel anxious about. The closest comparable statistic is seeing who has viewed or replied to your snaps — but, importantly, this information is kept private. Why are millennials and teens sharing dozens of snaps a day while their Facebooks lie dormant? I think Likexiety is in part to blame.
Make Likes private and watch posts increase.
2. Private Likes creates a market for Like data
Likes are valuable, trackable, targetable information. In fact there is a whole cottage industry of companies whose sole business model is scraping, analyzing, and processing Like data to sell. And here Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are giving it away for free! There is money to be made packaging up proprietary Like information in anonymized and useful chunks.
3. Private Likes will help people see the good in social media again
At best, social media is regarded as a waste of time, at worst, a societal evil. It’s blamed for enabling everything from egotism to depression. And while it can certainly amplify our own human frailties, this is the case with many new technologies (just think what chat rooms did for predators, or television for demagogues). Facebook must remind people that there is good to be had there too — friendships, birthdays, and achievements to be celebrated. With private Likes, we would have an easy way to show our love, but without any risk of comparing ourselves to others.
Moreover, this is the argument against doing away with Likes entirely. Likes are still a valuable tool, a way to show love and, importantly, receive it. It is only their public nature that has tainted that original purpose.
We’re already seeing fresh thinking when it comes to Likes, in Facebook Reactions, a feature that attempts to make Likes more useful with additional emotions. Let’s push that thinking even further and make Likes private, eliminating Likexiety once and for all.
Let’s stop focusing on how many Likes we didn’t get, and instead enjoy the Likes we did.
(Isn’t that what Likes are all about anyway?)
P.S. Please like this ❤