What does "liking" something really mean in the social media age?

I’ve used various social media platforms since the dark ages of Friendster. However, in recent times the meaning, purpose and pursuit of “likes,” has gradually evolved from genuinely being interested in a given post to a form - and signification - of cultural capital. The more likes a given post gets, the higher the perception of its quality and social relevance.

But, what does a “like” on a social media post actually mean? While the intent of the like is to signify interest in a post, the like has become polysemic without proper recognition of such. For example, I have used likes as bookmarks for later reference. Others have used likes to strengthen a connection with other users. Some use them to signify that they have “watched” the material in some form or fashion (though, this does not always mean they’ve actually engaged with it.) Many posts on these forums seem to indicate that likes are a form of exchange of cultural capital to be returned “in kind.” In other words, “I’ll like your post in exchange for liking mine.” Others gamify likes in a coordinated fashion to show “popularity.”

As such, should likes or loops be given the honor of being the de facto fiat currency of social media? Do likes indicate true quality and engagement, or are they only indicators of mis-attribution of meaning or is it a manipulation of cultural capital? Or is it all three? This is an unmeasurable metric, of course. Should we closely examine the comments – a micro review of sorts – to understand a post’s quality?

This is not to suggest that liking a post is a malicious practice, but it is something we should consider when engaging the arts. After all, the Cats movie grossed 74.6 million dollars, which hardly indicates its quality.


You should be a host on Discovery Channel


Holy cow - that’s a lot of big words. I think you raise some excellent points. Back before bookmarking was a thing on most apps, I would also like/upvote as a way to save it for later. I’d argue that this phenomena though is exclusively due to mobile, as on desktop you could just use an actual bookmark in your browser. I’d say, though, that if everyone is liking something to save it for later, that definitely still means it’s popular (however, in this case, the likes lose their indication of positivity, and only correlate popularity).

With anything, there’s going to be outliers. There’s people who use likes as a way of pinging another’s interest / drawing attention to themself. There’s people who use likes to explicitly solicit a like in return. Some people even simply use it as a way to acknowledge someone’s reply, without providing one of their own (like a read receipt) - but, I fell this case is out of scope. However, on the standard bell curve of things, I think it’s safe to say like count correlates directly with popularity, and is indicative of positive feelings about the post.


Users like Army, RickyAnimoji and very few creators like all Byte videos in one app but then after the newest update, the latest button was gone and they voted yes for 61%. What happened?

Not sure how to take this…thanks?

I think you are correct that a majority of likes are positive, however, I think that by using these statistics alone, we may be missing something. We are effectively judging the value of art based on rudimentary metrics, without also considering deeper audience interaction. As such, many folks will be discouraged.

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that’s a black mirror mirror episode right there :cold_sweat:


The cat movie was worth every penny I paid to go see it.

That does not mean it was good.


Well, what I was trying to say is that while they can be used if you look at it with consideration for some degree of standard error.

However, @gwynerso has an excellent point. Things can be enjoyable (genuinely, ironically, etc) without being good. Prime example would be almost any Sci-Fi channel movie - they’re all bad movies, but people love them specifically for that.

So I suppose to amend my statement, likes are an indicator for peoples enjoyment of the content (with a degree of deviation for people using the like button for an alt. purpose). Emphasis on the word “indicator”: as in, not a direct measurement.

To objectively determine the goodness or quality of a post, you are correct that it would be flawed to use likes as the only statistic. In fact, any metric used alone would be poor for this. Overall engagement could be beneficial - but even then it really only measure popularity.

I think to determine quality, you almost have to develop a standard or checklist extrinsic to the post, and then weigh the post against it. Then of course, this standard would have to be amenable to change with the perpetually in-flux opinions of the internet at large on what quality is.

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This is the timeless “I like it” vs. “it is good” debate.

The larger question is, to attract a non-byte user, is it better to recommend posts with excellent metrics, or should we recommend those with critical acclaim?


I like where you’re going with this.


Less dystopian, but yes.

I think as the user base grows, coordination will become less effective relative to all the other organic activity on the app.

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I only like a video if I genially like it and it makes me laugh. Even if it’s a super popular video, if I don’t like it, I go to the next one.

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I like the discussion surrounding this. Someone should talk about this on a podcast :100:


We’re on the edge of technology advancing to the point where content will be personally geared to the individual’s taste. It makes this discussion limited to today’s outcomes, but not necessarily relevant to the near future.

I like content and people that I enjoy, and those that seem to genuinely like me assuming I enjoy their content which I usually do. I am managing my interactions to move towards my preferences.

My preferences are rarely what is most popular. I still haven’t got around to Lost, Survivor, GOT, etc. For many people the most popular is not necessarily appealing. Popular is a much easier sell when limited to three main television stations. As media develops the idea of popular dilutes. Mainstream media has branched out into niche content, only in recent history, which is where the viewers have been pushing it via their demands for diverse characters.

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