Why users don’t see view counts: Facebook focuses on positive interaction

There’s a reason why Facebook users can’t see exactly how many people have seen their posts, and it’s not out of malice, as BuzzFeed recently suggested.

Facebook wants interactions on the social network to be positive, which is why there will never be a “dislike” button on the site. If a user posts something they think is rather interesting or worthy, but sees that only a fraction of their friend list has seen it, that can lead to a negative experience.

BuzzFeed, citing a Stanford University/Facebook study, claimed that Facebook was purposefully hiding view counts from users. The study examined the audiences of 222,000 Facebook users, discovering that their posts reached 35 percent of friends with each post and 61 percent on a monthly basis.

BuzzFeed argued that many users would love to know exactly how many people see their posts:

For all our obsession with “likes,” comments, retweets, and reblogs — and all the careful attention to crafting our profiles — at the end of the day, the biggest question remains a mystery: How many people actually saw what you’re sharing?

Sure, there are indicators. “Likes,” comments, and shares are the currency of social media and offer positive reinforcement to let you know if a post has resonated with others (and to keep you coming back for more). The only problem with this feedback, according to a new study, is that it doesn’t tell the whole story — in fact, it tells very little of it. “When you post on a social network, it’s almost like trying to give a presentation from behind a curtain. You know who’s invited and supposed to be listening, but you don’t know who is actually there in the room,” Stanford assistant professor Michael S. Bernstein told BuzzFeed.

In fact, most of what happens after an update is sent out takes place out of sight — only Facebook knows the truth. And it’s in the company’s best interest to keep that information to itself. The company knows full well that the only thing worse than speaking to an empty room is speaking to a room full of friends and family and having them ignore you.

The BuzzFeed story gained a response from Lars Backstrom, a Facebook News Feed engineer.

Backstrom simply said that if regular users wanted to see view counts, Facebook would make it happen. While these numbers are vital for businesses and pages, as well as groups, Backstrom noted that they’re not as important for everyday users and Facebook has not heard much desire for this metric:

The main premise of the article — that everyone wants to know how many friends see each of their posts and Facebook doesn’t want to tell them — is just plain wrong. A few of us did build and test a feature like this internally. Our conclusion after testing it: people are way more interested in seeing *who* liked their posts, rather than just the number of people who saw it. In fact, in all of the thousands of pieces of feedback we receive about News Feed each month, virtually no one has asked to see this information. If we saw enough people asking for this, we would definitely consider building it into the product. But, from what we’ve seen, including the raw numbers isn’t worth the space it would take up on the screen. The Buzzfeed author notes that we do show advertisers how many people see their posts. That’s true, but we also show this information to Group members and Page owners who aren’t advertisers. That’s because these people care about how many people see these posts; everyday users — not so much.

Facebook has always placed a premium on positive interaction and engagement. As users have wondered why Facebook has a like button, but not a dislike button, there’s solid reasoning behind it. Facebook wants the main methods of interaction — likes, comments and shares — to be of a positive nature. If a user sees that only a fraction of their friends have seen the post, it will likely leave a bad taste in their mouth — even though they know that most friends probably don’t see the posts. Seeing the evidence would be bad for the user experience. It’s not that Facebook is maliciously trying to hide this number, it’s just something that a majority of Facebook users probably wouldn’t care about.

BuzzFeed does make a good point that many people are on Facebook to read through News Feed stories and engage with the posts they feel the need to. This means that people aren’t always going to comment on every post, leading to the feeling that Facebook posts often just go into a black hole.

In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session earlier this year, Facebook product engineer Bob Baldwin spoke about the lack of a dislike button and Facebook’s desire for interactions to be positive:

Actions on Facebook tend to focus on positive social interactions. Like is the lightest-weight way to express positive sentiment. I don’t think adding a light-weight way to express negative sentiment would be that valuable. I know there are times when it’d make sense, like when a friend is having a rough day, or got into a car accident like my sister yesterday (she’s OK!). For these times, a nice comment from a friend goes a long way.

Readers: Would you want to know how many people see your posts?