This is kind of a weird story that might have some serious implications for social media users. A coder was poking around in the Facebook code on her device and discovered something odd. There was an as-yet inactive piece of code that would hide the number of “likes” any given post gets from other users, only allowing the individual to see their own number of likes. This concept is apparently already being tested in limited locations on Instagram, but it could be showing up for the general population across platforms in the near future. (BBC)
An engineer has discovered prototype code in Facebook’s Android app which suggests it might test hiding the number of likes a post receives.
Jane Manchun Wong found the code, which has not been activated. Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook, including Canada and Brazil, where only the account holder in the trial can see the number of likes they attract.
Facebook declined to comment.
Some studies have suggested the pressures of social media popularity can affect mental health, particularly in young people.
While there’s no “official” comment on this yet, so far it looks to be something they’re billing as a mental health initiative. (Or “digital well being” as it’s being called.) But that makes no sense. The theory that Instagram is working off of suggests that people feel too much pressure to try to get a ton of likes for their posts and depression can result if they fail to run up large numbers. But based on the way this is working thus far, the user will still be able to see how many (or few) likes they have. The difference is that nobody else will be able to see the number. How does that make them less depressed?
I’m also wondering what this will do to all of the “trending” questions associated with the platform. Isn’t the number of likes and interactions how they determine which posts are hot and going viral? Taking those numbers away would appear to kneecap the process.
But those aren’t the biggest concerns as far as I can see. If Facebook is building in the ability to mask the number of likes for all users, will they also be able to selectively mask the figures for certain users? Or even display a far lower number than the actual interactions? Given their track record, it’s not difficult to imagine them masking popular conservative content to stop it from spreading too quickly. Think of it as the Facebook equivalent of shadowbanning.
Hey, maybe I’m just being paranoid over nothing. But you’ve got to admit, Facebook (as well as Twitter) has given us more than sufficient reasons to be paranoid.