Facebook and Instagram have been toying with hiding likes for nearly two years in order to reduce users’ negative feelings associated with social comparison. Now, the services are shifting their tests to provide users the option to turn off likes for their own posts, hide like counts on anyone else’s posts, or leave all as is—suggesting there is no one-size fits all solution.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announced the plans via Twitter on Wednesday, suggesting the move was based on findings from initial tests that hid likes. “Some found this helpful and some still wanted to see like counts, in particular to track what’s popular,” he said.
Instagram began rolling out the new test on Wednesday to a “small percentage” of global users, and Facebook is “exploring a similar experience.” The company said it’s been working with experts like the JED Foundation, a nonprofit that works to prevent suicide for young people, the National Eating Disorders Association, and other experts to address well-being and social comparison on its services.
One of those experts is Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. She said she started working with Facebook in 2019, when the company developed a parental guide to Instagram to help them aid their teens in navigating the social network.
Whitlock told me social comparison is “one of the primary mechanisms affecting mental health on social media.” She said, “When people compare themselves based on whatever cues they can see, they’re much more likely to walk away feeling bad about themselves.” (In 2016, a writer at Slate took a shot at naming this feeling: “frenvious.”)
Some groups have a higher likelihood of feeling bad after seeing others’ posts, including people who suffer from depression or anxiety, people who already view of themselves negatively, and specifically adolescent and teen girls. “It’s a really developmentally tender time,” Whitlock said. “They care about how the world perceives them.”
But it’s unclear whether giving users the option to hide likes solves the problem. Users may not have the self-awareness to toggle their settings for the sake of their mental state. And even if they did, social media provides numerous avenues for people to compare themselves to others, likes aside—people will still be posting about enviable life achievements.
Still, Whitlock said she believes giving people the option to switch off likes is a step in the right direction. And according to financial analysts, it likely has little to no consequence on Facebook’s business.
“If Instagram and Facebook remain the repository for people’s memories, there won’t be as much of an impact,” said Ronald Josey, an analyst at investment banking firm JMP Securities.
“It’s not something … [that’s] come up much in investor chats,” said Mark Schmulik, an analyst at brokerage firm AB Bernstein.
Bottom line: Hiding likes won’t fix “frenvy.” But it may help.
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Big Tech takes a big stand. Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon CEOs joined a group of hundreds of corporate leaders in a statement that condemns discriminatory voting laws. Republicans in several states are pushing the legislation suggesting it is needed to increase the public’s confidence in the integrity of elections. Following the 2020 presidential election, many Republicans echoed then-Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. Prior to the statement, several big technology companies denounced Georgia’s new voting law that would similarly limit voting.
Another day, another investigation. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission is investigating Facebook’s data breach that reportedly left the data 533 million users vulnerable. The commission is reviewing whether the company violated its data protection rules as a result. Facebook is reportedly working with regulators on the probe. The investigation is one of seven that the commission is currently undertaking following inquiries from both Ireland and other EU regulators.
Blurring ethical lines. Researchers and academics are beginning to worry that Google’s research can’t be trusted, according to The Verge. Following the controversial firings of Ethical A.I. team leads Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru and the subsequent resignation of AI research manager Samy Bengio, many are worried that Google could be “subtly warping” internal researchers’ work. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence has become an increasingly key part of Google’s products.
The hunt for algorithmic bias. Twitter on Wednesday announced plans to investigate the “unintentional harms” within Twitter’s algorithms in order to improve the service in the future. Twitter said in upcoming months it will release its analysis on gender and racial bias of its image-cropping algorithm, timeline recommendations across racial subgroups, and content recommendations for political ideologies in seven countries. Rumman Chowdhury, the head of Twitter's ML Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability team, and the team’s product lead Jutta Williams said the work is part of a company-wide initiative called Responsible ML.
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An estimated 40 million people could face losing their homes once a COVID-related moratorium on evictions lifts on June 30. Jason Mazzone, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, and Robin Fretwell Wilson, the director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois System, say the digital divide could harm communities that lack Internet access since many hearings are held online. If lawyers have trouble navigating these online hearings, how can the justice system expect tenants to do better, the authors ask in an opinion piece for The Hill.
“Many tenants behind on rent also lack the technological resources to participate effectively in virtual proceedings. They may have no internet service or unreliable, spotty service. Those attending by smartphone may have limited data plans, making lengthy hearings, or hearings at the end of a billing cycle, unaffordable. Tenants whose first language is not English, who have limited education, or are unused to navigating online environments might have trouble keeping up.
“When tenants cannot meaningfully join the proceeding, often the only remaining outcome is eviction.”
Bachelor Nation fans may soon get the chance to explore Colton Underwood’s life after he came out as a gay man on national TV on Wednesday. The 2019 Bachelor has reportedly landed a deal with Netflix for a new reality series, according to Variety. But many fans still take issue with Underwood, who was accused of stalking ex Cassie Randolph following their breakup. Will Bachelor Nation follow Underwood to his new show?
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