It seems hard to believe these days, but once upon a time, there was no such thing as a “like” button on social media. An article at Fast Company outlines how Facebook’s “like” button came to be and follows the nuclear cascade it unleashed. Will Ormeus argues that the seemingly harmless ability to express your approval of posts online has led to “the shifting of the entire media toward pandering, manipulative discourse”. It’s a big claim, but not an implausible one.
Could the whole category of clickbait exist without social media likes? Or micro-targeted ads? What about customized news feeds? These questions clearly weren’t in the minds of the developers at the time. But Ormeus writes that the like button provided fuel for all sorts of algorithms, driving Facebook’s news feed to “become the single most influential distributor of information in many societies”.
While most folks involved in the formation of the “like” button would say they wanted to “increase positivity in the system”, the seismic changes it created are being felt much further afield. A study of adolescents just published found that kids who habitually check social media are “becoming hypersensitive to feedback from their peers”. Frequent social media use was associated with increased activity in the reward centers of participant’s brains and “could have long-standing and important consequences for adolescents’ neural development” according to co-author Mitch Prinstein.