I Quit Liking Things On Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s How It Changed My View of Humanity.
a hopeful look at what happens when you quit the Like
On August 1st, 2014, I announced that I was going to quit liking things on Facebook. At the time, I simply stated that I no longer wanted to be as active a participant in teaching Facebook how to advertise to me as I had been in the past, but another and much larger issue was my real curiosity: how was my Facebook experience going to change once I stopped feeding its engine with likes?
I quit the Like, and it was hard.
The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to not like things on Facebook. As I scrolled through updates, my finger instinctively gravitated towards the Like button on hundreds of posts and comments. It has become a gut-level, Pavlovian response. I saw updates I liked or wanted others to know I liked, and I found myself almost unconsciously clicking my approval.
The Like is the wordless nod of support in a loud room. It’s the easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos. I actually felt pangs of guilt over not liking some updates, as though the absence of my particular Like would translate as a disapproval or a withholding of affection. I felt as though my ability to communicate had been somehow hobbled. The Like function has saved me so much comment-typing over the years that I likely could have written a very quippy, War-and-Peace-length novel by now.
As the days wore on, though, my Like avoidance became easier to exercise, and it seemed to be reaping benefits when I noticed a significant difference in my Facebook news feed. I wasn’t sure if my experience was worth writing about, though, until I read an article by Mat Honan called I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. Honan chose to like everything on Facebook instead, and he experienced the polar opposite of what I did when I quit the Like. Our findings, when paired together, underscored what I believed my experiment with quitting the Like had uncovered.
#1 Benefit of Quitting the Facebook Like: A Better Facebook News Feed
It’s impossible to tell with any scientific certainty that my Facebook feed is markedly different than it used to be, but it sure looks that way.
You would think that liking certain updates on Facebook would teach the algorithm to give you more of what you want to see, but Facebook’s algorithm is not human. The algorithm does not understand the psychological nuances of why you might like one thing and not another even though they have comparatively similar keywords and reach similar audiences, so when I liked several videos and images of heartwarming animal stories, Facebook’s algorithm gave me more animal stories, but many of them were not heartwarming. They depicted inhumane treatment. Apparently, Facebook’s algorithm mistook my love for animals as a desire to see images of elephants being brutalized.
The algorithm made the same mistake with politics and fashion and lifestyle posts. In showing me more of whatever it inferred that I wanted to see from my Likes, my Facebook experience included a lot of things I really didn’t like, because its algorithm doesn’t understand the many political, philosophical, and emotional shades of a given topic. Liking a local animal hospital does not equal my wanting to see abused dogs, and liking a post about a sweet wedding does not not equal my wanting to see every inspiring human who ever existed in New York. The algorithm can’t know that, though, because it can’t know individuals.
It seems that the Like function had me trapped in a universe where the environment was dictated by a knee-jerk ad-bot. You like yogurt? You’ll like Extreme Yogurt more! You liked eight cute kitten videos? You’ll really want to see to this graphic image of eight kittens being tortured by scientists!
Now that I am commenting more on Facebook and not clicking Like on anything at all, my feed has relaxed and become more conversational. It’s like all the shouty attention-getters were ushered out of the room as soon as I stopped incidentally asking for those kinds of updates by using the Like function. I have not seen a single repugnant image of animal torture, been exposed to much political wingnuttery, or continued to drown under the influx of über-cuteness that liking kitten posters can bring on. (I can’t quit the kittens.)
I feel as though reason has been restored. I can comment on a cute cat photo without being inundated with all the animal videos 800 people shared this week, and I can comment on a post about race relations without then having Facebook trot out an endless showcase of vitriol.
Facebook without the Like appears to be nearly sane.
#2 Benefit of Quitting the Facebook Like: More Humanity and Love
When I disallowed myself Facebook’s Like function as a method of communication, I was left with this unmet desire to let people know I heard them or liked their content, and I suddenly felt invisible. I was reading, but no one knew I was there, which made me realize that my habitual style of Facebook interaction had to change. Without the Like function to rely on, I had to comment or risk looking anti-social and experience even more disconnection, so I started commenting more than I ever had before on the platform.
When once I would have simply liked someone’s photo of their new baby, now I commented with “What a gorgeous shock of hair.” When once I would have liked someone’s update about their wedding anniversary, I now typed “Remember how we hid from your grandmother in the gazebo and smoked cigarettes?” I used sentences to affirm parenting wins, share my secret to enjoying kale smoothies (blending the kale first), and make jokes about the sociopathy of house cats.
I had been suffering a sense of disconnection within my online communities prior to swearing off Facebook likes. It seemed that there were fewer conversations, more empty platitudes and praise, and a slew of political and religious pageantry. It was tiring and depressing. After swearing off the Facebook Like, though, all of this changed. I became more present and more engaged, because I had to use my words rather than an unnuanced Like function. I took the time to tell people what I thought and felt, to acknowledge friend’s lives, to share both joys and pains with other human beings.
It turns out that there is more humanity and love in words than there are in the use of the Like.
In short, the end of the Like made Facebook better and brought back the love.
Again, my experiment with quitting the Like on Facebook has not been scientific. I kept no statistics, I tracked no specific users, and I created no fancy pie charts. My experiential outcome, though, has been clear, and it has clearly been the opposite of what Mat Honan found when he liked everything. Facebook is just better without the Like.
When I used to like everything that did not actively bore me or make me feel hateful, my stream of Facebook updates was more like a series of soapboxes spouting outrage dotted with weddings, cute baby animals, and only occasionally real content worth pursuing. Since I stopped liking altogether, though, my Facebook stream is more akin to an eclectic dinner party. There is conversation, there is disagreement (mostly) without hostility, and there is connection. It seems as though I am getting more of what I actually want rather than just being served more extreme versions of what I Like.
I have longstanding and outspoken issues — terrible social algorithm aside — with Facebook’s Terms of Service, its privacy issues, and its micro-nudging of a large portion of the planet’s population into less and less desirable behaviours, but once I removed the Like function from my own behaviour, I almost started to like using Facebook. It turns out that your friends might actually be more likeable than Facebook’s Like disruption makes them appear, and the growing sense of disconnection that many of us experience might just be due to a tone-deaf algorithm.
When we drop the Like, we might actually like each other. We might actually connect.
Quit the Like. See if it amplifies the humanity in your Facebook.
Give the Like a rest and see what happens. Choose to comment with words. Watch how your feed changes. I haven’t used the Like on Facebook since August 1st, and the changes in my feed have been so notably positive that I won’t be liking anything in the foreseeable future.
Not so secretly, I think the humanity and love, the kinder middle grounds not begging for extremes, that many of us have come to believe are diminishing in the world at large are simply being drowned out by an inhuman algorithm, and I think we can bring those socially vital experiences back out into the light.
Quit the Like and experiment with amplifying a better signal. What will happen to your Facebook without your likes? What will happen to your perception of not only your Facebook friends but the world at large? What will happen to us?
UPDATE: I began this experiment on August 1st, 2014, and as of July 2015, I continue to not use the Like function on Facebook. My positive results remain the same. Viva the not liking!
Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking