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Facebook post ‘like’ counts could vanish

We like when people “like” our posts on social media.

For others, however, the “likes” their posts receive, or more specifically don’t receive, could lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Apparently, Facebook wants to help alleviate those feelings.

In what appears to be a response to studies linking social media use with mental health issues, Facebook is testing a small but significant platform change that would hide like counts from some users.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “like counts,” it simply refers to the number next to the thumbs-up, heart and other reaction icons that appear under Facebook posts.

Click on the like count of a public post and you’ll find a breakdown of the six reaction types: like, love, haha, wow, sad and angry.

The more our friends “like” something — that is, the more they react to our content with one of those icons — the more our like counts increase.

Jane Manchun Wong, a software engineer who researches yet-to-be-released features on major social media platforms, uncovered evidence of Facebook’s test this summer.

During the test, according to Wong, like counts were hidden from everyone other than the post creators.

This is an important distinction. The person who posts content will still be able to see like counts. Everyone else will only see the reactions icons without the numbers.

This change only applies to “likes” and not to comments and shares. Our friends and followers will still see those numbers. Also, unless we turn off the comment feature, people will still be able to post comments and read and react to others.

For advertisers, knowing a like count is a necessity. “Likes” serve as important tools for measuring the success of campaigns. Knowing how users react to certain types of advertising content could influence future posts from our favorite brands.

For the rest us of who use Facebook to connect with others, seeing our own like counts could be gratifying. But if our posts don’t generate the like counts we expect, no one else will know.

“By hiding the like counts from anyone other than the post creator, users might feel less anxious about the perceived popularity of their content,” Wong said.

Wong went on to cite studies that show the influence social media may have on our mental health, including links to depression and anxiety.

Hiding like counts may be a good way to ease anxiety among some users. But to be clear, social media use is not all doom and gloom. In fact, many social media users access their accounts on a near daily basis to feel better connected to others.

We use social media because it typically evokes good feelings.

“Positive interactions, social support, and social connectedness on (social media) were consistently related to lower levels of depression and anxiety,” a 2016 report in JMIR Mental Health revealed.

The same study showed social media use was related to less loneliness and greater self-esteem and life satisfaction.

This hidden-like-count test could be further proof that Facebook is trying to improve our experience. If Facebook likes the results of their test, it could lead to a better experience for everyone.

As with all modifications Facebook has made, time will tell if we actually “like” the change.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn .com.

acearnheardt@ysu.edu