Scourge of the šŸ‘ “Likes”

There is a chance that you discovered this post because someone “liked” it. A seminal development in the history of consumer internet products, the “like button” was first created on Vimeo website in 2005. You probably already know that on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram etc. it has been all rage ever since. Originally designed as a better option than favouriting content it has become the norm of social approval, and engagement.

Step back a minute and understand why. Human mind is wired in such a way that it craves for affirmation and it also craves for social approval. Like button is the simplest form of affirmation that one can provide or receive.. In people’s mind it creates the perfect dopamine hook. They post content, and it gets likes and comments. Moreover there is variability in the likes and comments driven by the social graph. The person doesn’t know how many or who will like their post. Given this variable incentive, we are drawn in more and more. Our brain loves variable reward (Las Vegas anyone?).

The jury is out on the data sharing practices of the social giants however this addictive nature of their platforms gets little attention. We know about misinformation on the internet (hopefully) however the like button has contributed significantly to the addictive nature of the internet and smartphone. The mechanism is exactly same as getting hooked to a narcotic. In fact, studies highlight that the areas of brain that light up due to dopamine hooks of Facebook and Instagram are not different to the areas of brain lighting up when a drug addict takes a hit. So in a nutshell you are being hooked on purpose in order to increase your engagement levels and therefore profitability of these companies.

There are other effects that need attention including amplification of confirmation bias. Likes lead to algorithms showing you similar content amplifying what you like or sometimes reaffirming what you don’t. I have seen my parents take extreme political positions thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp. Surely it is not healthy for democracy?

Through this post I only wish to increase awareness of this subject. I for one have deleted the Facebook app but I still like and favourite content on Twitter and LinkedIn. What can I say? I am hooked.

Author: Abhi Shah

Passionate business builder with background in software development, big data analytics, commercial product management including digital and mobile. Currently building machine learning and data products at Barclays PLC