Adios, accountability: X to hide 'likes' for everyone this week

Hello, blackmail: Posters can still see who liked their stuff even if it's a secret from the rest of the digital town square

After making the option available for Premium users last year, the site formerly known as Twitter has decided to begin hiding everyone's "likes" to "better protect your privacy." 

X's engineering team shared the news on its account yesterday, saying that it planned to flip the private-like switch sometime this week. Once it does, the Likes tab on user profiles will be gone, though one can still see a list of posts they themselves have "liked." As of writing, the tab is still visible on user profiles. 

The change essentially means X users will no longer be able to see who has "liked" a particular post or what posts a particular person has "liked," but users will still be able to see metrics from their own posts, as well as a full list of people who've "liked" their posts.

If this hiding system sounds half thought out and rife with possibilities for blackmail and abuse – no, it's not just you. 

X owner Elon Musk, whose preferred method of engaging with hate speech isn't to passively hit "like" but rather to write an endorsement, might not have to worry about being blackmailed with his now-secret likes, but others will. Twitter accounts belonging to US Senator Ted Cruz and Kentucky state senator Jason Howell, for example, have both been caught tapping "like" on pornographic posts in the past. With such an engagement secret to all but the original poster, you can begin to see the possibilities of such information in the hands of a bad actor – a fact plenty of X users pointed out in response to the X engineering team's post.

And it's not like X isn't trying to encourage users to let loose and provide it with all those juicy, personally compromising online endorsements: The company's director of engineering basically did just that last month.

"Public likes are incentivizing the wrong behavior," Haofei Wang said in response to speculation that X was considering hiding "likes" by default for all users. "For example, many people feel discouraged from liking content that might be 'edgy' in fear of retaliation from trolls, or to protect their public image."

Wang added that soon that won't be an issue, and encouraged users to smash that "like" button because "the more posts you like, the better your For you algorithm will become."

Beyond the possibilities for blackmail, other X users responding to the engineering team pointed out that the decision to get rid of public "likes" is essentially an admission that X can't solve its bot problem, once a dealbreaker for Musk's purchase of Twitter. Since the billionaire strolled into HQ carrying a sink, however, researchers have found that bots are a worse problem than before.

The move also kills the community's ability to validate a post's engagement, one user pointed out, by being able to verify that "likes" came from organic users and not bots. Others said it would do nothing but enable fraud and make it easier to manipulate posts related to upcoming elections in the US and elsewhere.

We contacted X with questions, but only got the standard response that it was "busy now" and we should "check back later." ®

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