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Beto Dealmeida's avatar

(One of) the problem(s) with likes

The friendship paradox and the problem with likes

I was reading Ana's post on likes[archived]:

I also care a lot about how social media is having an impact on mental health and what I, a developer, am doing about it. I know “likes” aren’t going away and I’m not trying to push for that. Personally, I don’t think “likes” are a healthy thing at the moment so I don't think I’m going to have “likes” on my blog.

One problematic thing with likes is the friendship paradox[archived], which states that "your friends have more friends than you do". While unintuitive at first, the paradox is easy to understand: you're most likely connected to people with lots of friends than with people with very few friends, biasing the average number of friends your friends have. This also means that the content posted by your friends probably has more likes than the content you post.

This is particularly problematic in platforms like Facebook, that surface popular content in your timeline. Facebook will tend to show you posts that have many likes, since it assumes that those posts are interesting and note-worthy. The result is that the posts shown on your Facebook timeline have on average 10x (if I remember the study correctly) the number of likes your own posts usually get. This gives a wrong perception of self-worth to users.

Personally, I'm not a fan of likes and shares. They're easy to do, and in particular with shares they mostly only serve for bias confirmation. In the past I've tried to always write down my thoughts when sharing something on Facebook, but it takes a lot of effort and I inevitable fall back into simply sharing without adding anything. I've done a similar approach when consuming shared content; I ask, "what are your thoughts on this post you shared?". Most people don't bother answering.

And that's why I like blog posts. There's friction, and it takes work, so we discuss about things we care about. Writing forces you to organize your thoughts, and this leads to better content.


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Cahito's avatar
Cahito replied on Twitter on 2020-07-07:

@dealmeida So... I guess I’m supposed to like and share this? 😉 Would it work if we had other interactions with po… https://t.co/WpISzTKceN