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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

Jan. 6 committee subpoenas tech giants

A mob of Trump supporters breaches the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 select committee on Thursday subpoenaed Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter for records as part of its investigation of the Capitol insurrection.

Why it matters: The four social media companies have key information related to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election and domestic violent extremism, the panel said.

Kate Marino, author of Markets
29 mins ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
59 mins ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to officially change it.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.