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After the tests on Instagram, the main platform could test the obscuring of the number of appreciations, which would remain visible to the author of a post. Because it is a false revolution that plays with our psychology.

AFTER the Instagram tests, launched in some countries starting from Canada and from July also in Italy, even Facebook would be thinking about it. At what? To hide the count of “Likes”, the number of “Likes” below each content published on the bulletin board: texts, photos, videos or other. The classic “Tom and other 54” formula would disappear, alongside the possible reactions – as we know, for three years, other facets have been added to the pollution that expresses anger, amazement, love and so on – to leave something like “Tom liked this and some other people”.

A generic formula, as happens with the small tests on the twin application, which should defuse competitions and envy of “Like”, push less active users not to fear confrontation and publish content that may not collect who knows what an influencer rating. But maybe they make sense to exist for their expressiveness and creativity (as well as for the advantage of the platform, always focused on deflating the audience of silent observers). To try to make social media, catching up with the words of some time ago referring to Instagram, “a place where everyone can feel free to express themselves. This means helping people to focus on shared photos and videos and not on how many “Likes” they receive “.

The careful researcher Jane Manchun Wong has indeed identified, in the Facebook app code for Android, a series of useful instructions to implement, if desired, this small revolution. The TechCrunch site then asked the Californian giant for confirmation, which in fact explained that it had started tests even if not directly on users. In short, only at the design level of the app.

Just like on Instagram, even on Facebook the only person who can still see the precise number of “reactions” collected would be the author of the post. At the public level, however, the list of users who have clicked on some smiley face would still be available, from which to tell the truth it would not be complicated to understand if the content has been successful or not: it would be enough to scroll the list.

So, instead of introducing the only real revolution that would profoundly change the grammar of the social network – the coveted and repeatedly requested “Dislike” or “Don’t like” button – Facebook tries a complicated engineering operation of social make-up. Make-believe that you have eliminated the “Like” but, in fact, throw it under the rug. At the platform, the button serves as the air because, although there are dozens of other metrics and parameters, the “Like” is the cornerstone of the strategies with which the site subjects us to advertising.

Advertising from which he derives almost the totality of his earnings. Without knowing what we like, and without telling it to us by disseminating our appreciation on the platform, Facebook should really start from scratch. And even if the total number of “Likes” were really hidden under the posts of all users, it would not disappear at all: it would remain there, in a new psychological experiment that from the point of view of the company’s business model does not change a comma. Those data would no longer be visible to the audience but would remain available not only to the author but also to the social media.

The history of the thumb is in fact quite articulated and is linked to the marketing strategies of the nineties born in the world of traditional advertising. The “Like economy” that Carolin Gerlitz and Anne Helmond had talked about in a book from 2013 and that Facebook has built over time is in fact rooted in the field of study on pleasure in marketing, inaugurated in turn well before the expansion of the web as we have known it over the past ten years.

The developments of the last decade confirm these deep roots: the invention of the “Like” button is not due in fact to Facebook but to FriendFeed, an aggregator that was born in 2007, three years after the social blue. A couple of years later, in 2009, it was purchased by Mark Zuckerberg and after the acquisition continued to run for six years without any updates, until the final closure in 2015. The mission he had to perform, in fact, had been fulfilled: a Facebook basically needed a series of technologies and inventions that had been launched right on FriendFeed.

One of these, in addition to the real-time updates on the page, was the “Like” button. After a short period of preparation, February 9, 2009 – just ten years ago to think of it – the button would finally start on Facebook. The author of the move was Justin Rosenstein, then 26 years old with an experience from Google behind that a few years later he would have strongly distanced himself from the underlying logic of the “Like”: in October two years ago he gave up using the social media in which he had worked, explaining that “the ‘I liked Facebook button is a source of pseudo-pleasure. Everyone is distracted, always”.

Often, in the falsely intimate perception of the bulletin board, we tend to consider “Like” as a business between us and the author of the post. I’m the one who clicks it, he’ll take care of it. And it is on this narrow, just but a limited view that the tests of this period conducted by the giant intend to take us. Trying to validate the equation that if you no longer see the number of the “Like” in fact it is as if the “Like” was gone. Unfortunately, it is not (only) like this: I like it is actually the first and most important stone we distribute on the platform.

Proof of this is the fact that, by simply accessing the Settings, we are able to retrace all our actions back to the site by accessing the “Activity Log”. Where the “Like” is also scattered forever: a web of appreciations. If desired, few know it, we can remove them even after a long time. Or again, it is often thought that I like it completely free. This is not entirely true. Net of specialized agencies that often navigate the thread of legality, the “Likes” (for one or more pages that are edited) can be purchased through advertising campaigns that anyone can set up through the dedicated social media platform.

In short, the “Like” is by definition the key to the ratification of our lives and to think that Facebook can renounce you with such ease is an illusion. Rather, the experiments of these months tell us of a rather more slippery attempt: to hide the total number of “Likes”, to defuse the accusations of feeding the dictatorship of optimism or who knows what other depressions and frustrations, does not mean to eliminate them from one’s DNA. Quite the opposite: it means instead recognizing, and admitting, the centrality of that element. Enough to throw it under the rug.

More courageous would be to finally add to the I like an exactly symmetrical button, which does the same thing and gives the public an expressive power equal to and opposite to that of the thumb: I don’t like it. A further step would be to take into account the balance between the two types of post-reaction to establish the hierarchy through which the contents are shown on the users’ message board. Think of a xenophobic or hateful content that the “thousands of Likes he has received” are always highlighted with a scandalized tone: but how many “Dislikes” would be if it were possible to click an explicit I don’t like it?

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