User Engagement through Increased Privacy?

Last week it was revealed that Facebook is testing publicly hiding ‘like’ counts in Australia. Metrics will still be available on the creator’s side but not to the view of the general public. A similar test was recently completed by Instagram this past April. Instagram is owned by Facebook.

The goal of these initiatives seems to be to reduce the pressure of public perception, which would create higher user engagement levels and allow people to post more freely. Sites like Facebook and Instagram collect and corporatize user data for sale through things like tailored advertisements, so consequently, user engagement is vital to their business models.

Similarly, Youtube has added a new setting enabling users to auto-delete their search and viewing histories after a period of time. Users have been able to manually delete history, but this allows for a setting of auto-delete after a specified period of time or to eliminate history tracking altogether.

Both actions may positively affect the general health and wellbeing of users. Facebook and Instagram ‘like counts’ are commonly thought to result in social pressures and negative self-perceptions. YouTube projects and recommends future content based on user history when one reaches the end of a given video. YouTube users may experience better wellbeing through the viewing of more varied recommended content. It is thought that viewing multiple perspectives can help to develop one’s empathy and critical thinking skills.

These stories also highlight a push towards more anonymity online. These actions naturally lead one to believe users are craving more privacy from their peers, friends and followers. This push may exist as a chilling effect. More and more often, headlines include a person’s user generated content (usually in the form of old or deleted tweets). We are seeing online content coming back to negatively impact people, which results in much more of a general understanding that uploaded content is uploaded forever. This may make users less likely to engage online due to fear of judgement by both current and future friends, followers, peers and/or employers.

Do you think these measures may impact user health?

Why do you think there is a need for increased anonymity online?