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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Public like and dislike counts, once a baseline offering for social media companies, are disappearing as tech platforms begin to uncover ways they are being abused.

Why it matters: Engagement mechanisms such as "likes" or "reactions" make tech platforms stickier, which is good for selling ads. But they're also becoming a risk factor for tech firms that are under pressure to address issues like user wellbeing and misinformation.

  • Engagement with like or dislike buttons impact how content is promoted to users via algorithms. Visible like counts may affect how users choose to engage with certain content, for better or worse.

Driving the news: YouTube on Wednesday said it's making "dislike" counts invisible to users across the entire platform, although creators will still be able to see them behind the scenes.

  • YouTube experimented with this earlier this year and found that people were less likely to harass users by intentionally "disliking" videos when the counts were invisible. It also found that the dislike button was used to disproportionately target smaller channels and newer creators.
  • YouTube acknowledged that some users depend on those counts to determine whether or not they should watch a video. Responding to those users, YouTube said, "We know that you might not agree with this decision, but we believe that this is the right thing to do for the platform."

Zoom out: Tech companies have been testing changes that cut down on scorekeeping for years. But with more pressure from lawmakers to address things like mental health and misinformation, the imperative to shift has grown.

Be smart: Not all like buttons are built the same. Facebook and other platforms, like LinkedIn, have introduced a set of "reactions" that include things like angry faces, sad faces and laughing faces.

  • These reactions can also be manipulated. The Washington Post reported last month that, for years, Facebook prioritized the "angry" reactions to posts in its algorithms, which ultimately led to more toxic information being shared.

What to watch: Lawmakers have been increasing pressure on tech companies to address ways their platforms can harm teens.

  • At a hearing about child safety last month, Democratic senators touted a bill that would protect users under 16 from a variety of features that boost engagement, including like buttons.
  • At the same hearing, a Snapchat executive argued the company was different from its rivals because it doesn't have a like button.

Go deeper: Tech companies target your sanity

Go deeper

Jul 27, 2020 - Technology

Big Tech's power, in 4 numbers

Data: FactSet; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The four Big Tech CEOs who will testify before Congress Wednesday command global empires with power and wealth that make them more like countries than companies.

By the numbers: Here are four very large stats for Facebook, Apple, Google/Alphabet and Amazon that tell the story of their value, scale and influence.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."