I like you, me neither

Fundamental for some, toxic for others, the "like" is more than ever at the heart of the debate on social networks.

April 26, 2021
Jérémy Boissinot

Instagram's crusade against likes

It's been over a year now since Instagram launched a large-scale experiment with some of its users: hide likes. Many users no longer see the number of likes on users' profiles.

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This week, Adam Mosseri, the director of Instagram, announced that the likes would not finally be hidden from everyone, as originally planned, and to give the option to do so or not in a new test phase on Instagram (and also Facebook).


But why did Facebook go to such lengths to hide the likes?

The “like” indeed has two major drawbacks:

  • Numerous studies have highlighted the almost drug-like effects that likes can have on users, especially younger ones.
  • The race for "likes" is done to the detriment of the quality of the content, with all the drifts that this can lead to (purchase of "likes", groups of "pods" to boost them artificially, etc.).

A 2016 study showed that the effects of "likes" on teenage brains were similar to those provided by chocolate or sports betting.

For Instagram, hiding the likes is not about deleting them - it’s therefore not just a move to make itself look good, even though it's still a good thing. There are ulterior motives to have even more control over the data it alone has on influencers. There's a real impact and discussion about the negative impact Instagram can have on society today, which is not good for business. What brand would want to partner with a network steeped in negativity?

Worse still, Tiktok came along, which not only brought real competition to a younger target but also set itself up as a more "fun" and "authentic" network when compared to its American counterpart. The worst-case scenario for Instagram became plausible: to be seen as a toxic, fake, and inauthentic network. The most obvious solution that appeared was to hide the "likes" to make the network less toxic.


A more than mixed record

The fact of hiding the "Likes" at the time received mixed reactions from users. Facebook had anticipated this reluctance to change, presenting it as a large-scale test. After all, the end of the chronological feed in 2016 had generated a huge outcry, and eventually, everyone had gotten used to it. And for many users, hiding likes was more of a blessing.

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The problem is that Facebook found itself alone in its initiative. And that in the end, on all social networks, the like plays a fundamental role that goes far beyond a pure "vanity metric".

On YouTube, the Likes/dislikes ratio is for example a very interesting criterion to judge the popularity of a video. When the ratio is unbalanced, it is a sign that the content has been very poorly received by the community of the account.

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On Twitter, the number of "likes" on a tweet compared to the number of shares and comments is often a sign of bad buzz. Moreover, many comments refer to this famous "ratio" to ironically indicate that the tweet is not up to par. In the example next to it, the difference between the initial tweet (29K likes, Marlene Schiappa's response - 476 likes and 141 replies, and the influencer's response - 3K likes and 12 replies) says a lot about how her tweet was received. Twitter without likes would not have the same flavor at all.

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On TikTok, likes are an extremely important indicator to measure the popularity of a video. As a "lambda" user, this is the first thing I look at when a TikTok is pushed to me via the algorithm. And as a sign that this criterion is important, the network even highlights the total number of likes on an influencer's profile and does not indicate the number of views on the content directly. Precisely because TikTok doesn't want a race to the number of views, the "like" is a good indicator of the virality of the content pushed by its algorithm. Finally, on LinkedIn, the like is a good indicator of the popularity of a publication, like this article that you will hasten to like at the end!

What future for like?

For Instagram, therefore, permanently hiding likes for all represents too great a risk today. The feedback from users has not been overwhelmingly positive enough to consider it. Hence the idea of leaving the choice to the user to hide it or not, and not to impose it on all.

For many players in the influencer marketing industry, like already plays a secondary role. For Favikon, for example, it is only one of many criteria that is taken into account in the final score. For many brands, the real ROI lies in other indicators such as conversion rate or click-through rate, and the like is of little importance.

I can't imagine micro-influencers hiding it, because there would always be a doubt about the reasons behind it: is the influencer ashamed of the number of likes? On the other hand, bigger influencers who don't have anything to prove or "lambda" users might be attracted by this feature in the long run since they don't value likes in the first place.

On a personal note, I admit that I never look at the number of likes of my friends that I follow on Instagram. On the other hand, it's almost automatic for the biggest influencers, because I'm curious to see what content works best with them. And you, how important is a “like” to you?

About the author

Jérémy Boissinot

Jérémy Boissinot is the founder of Favikon, an AI-powered platform that helps brands gain clarity on creator insights through rankings. With a mission to highlight quality creators, Jérémy has built a global community of satisfied creators and achieved impressive milestones, including over 10 million estimated impressions, 20,000+ new registrations, and 150,000 real-time rankings across more than 600 niches. He is an alumnus of ESCP Business School and has been associated with prestigious organizations such as the French Ministry and the United Nations in his professional pursuits.