Falling into “likes”: The Internet measurement frenzy affects our self-esteem

I have 8,818 emails, tweeted 944 times, and given no less than 6,446 likes to other people’s tweets. But why is this information accessible? Our other actions on the web and in the physical world are not measured and counted this way. I don’t know how many different cars I’ve ever driven, how many times I’ve browsed “The Atlantic” magazine’s website or watched Captain Von Trapp’s YouTube video of “The Sound of Music” singing “Edelweiss.” The Internet not only remembers and produces an endless popularity contest for us with a display of likes, shares and number of followers, but it also obsessively reflects on us what, how much and when we do what we do. But for what purpose?

It’s just ridiculous. On a more technical level, it’s impossible to argue with the unfortunate fact that it’s really me who hasn’t deleted thousands of emails and liked other people’s tweets thousands of times, but what’s the point of knowing? Why does Google or Twitter think I find it attractive or interesting, let alone make me feel like a hoarder of meaningless, outdated content that I have no idea what it includes?

Indeed, the scope of measurement includes the twisted reasons, layers of technology, and product designers who take part in the persistent struggle for power and control in Internet business. Along the way, it also produces and outlines new and unusual behaviors.

In 1975 Charles Goodhart published an article on monetary policy in Great Britain. In the introduction to the book he jokingly wrote: “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to break down once pressure is exerted on it for control purposes.” What Goodhart has tried to establish is that measures that are targeted lose their meaning because at that moment they become omniscient. You will recall the LSE professor who has published many articles in reputable journals and was a consultant to the Bank of England mainly due to that phrase known today as Godhart’s Law. The basic idea behind it is intuitive: as soon as one wants to measure or obtain some result, one will do everything to achieve this goal, even at the expense of neglecting or harming other Internet measurements are no different: every time a measurement is taken, it in turn models our behavior to control that data.

This metadata—small numbers that appear alongside Internet actions such as the number of emails or unread emails, the amount of retweets, shares, or views—guides our self-esteem and serves as pseudo-objective tools for assessing the nature of content or a user. Many views on YouTube make us assume credibility, quality or importance; Few viewpoints often indicate marginality, lack of relevance, and lead to a general doubt about trustworthiness. When a tweet appears in your feed with lots of likes, we’ll instantly give it a more meaningful read. If by chance we enter the profile of the same tweeter and it turns out that he has tens of thousands of followers, we will immediately evaluate that they are probably worth it.

Today, the claim that high numbers in all of these indices are a supreme goal is well established because they ostensibly indicate activity, presence, and dominance on the platform. Some people become obsessed with the number of followers or likes they get on Twitter. They want to have more, more, more than anyone else. Within these are users who usually celebrate imaginary numbers or guarantee a certain activity if other numbers are reached. “If this tweet gets 100 shares or likes so-and-so,” says the model, “I will share valuable information or my insight on this and that topic with you.” Other times they’ll celebrate a random round number like a thousand, five thousand or more followers, as a newsworthy event or share how many “unread emails” they have as proof of their importance.

But a sense of accomplishment on the internet can be achieved even by low numbers. For example, in the “unread email” example, low numbers may actually indicate someone fulfilling all of their duties. Similarly, the 8,818 emails amassed in the Gmail inbox feel like a resounding testament to my inability to separate, delete, and sort personal items, an uncomfortable feeling of hoarding, let alone I’ve had this Gmail inbox for almost 20 years, for that matter if they were real letters it would be intolerable or unreasonable for me to keep them at home. Thus, a relatively small amount of tweets indicates self-monitoring or filtering skills, so not all the thoughts that pass through that user’s mind are immediately translated into speeches in the public sphere. A user may also be careful to follow a few people , evidence of their indifference to forming a supportive community around themselves or being interested in what specific people have to say about the world.

How the measurement of the activity that is done “about us” or that we “do” affects the internet has been documented for years. Much has been written about how the collection of “likes” or “followers” on TikTok, Instagram or Facebook will create a new type of consumer culture over the years: consuming a like means recognition from the environment. Today, it is widely believed that this measurement drives users to produce content that elicits a response. The reactions on the networks over the years have become more and more extreme, tending to be more childish, nasty and nasty. Measurement has made the internet so toxic that in a moment of weakness in 2019, Instagram announced it would try phasing out like counters and redesigning profile pages so those metrics were less important than before.

But the way “our” activity is measured also has substantial effects on behavior. A post on Facebook, Twitter or TikTok that hasn’t received too many likes or shares can be deleted, as if all its quality and relevance were determined only by its degree of success. Sometimes we will delete a reply to a post that has received no response from its authors, perhaps because not replying will be interpreted as coldness or apathy and we would like to purge from the internet what to the outside observer may appear to be unhealthy user tracking. Rules upon rules are unconsciously dictated by the automatic quantification of the Internet.

Different social networks and platforms don’t care. Investing in the creation of quality, attractive or provocative content to see the indexes rise means spending long hours on those platforms; just like investing in deleting tweets, emails, and even people you follow or friend on Facebook means spending long hours on those platforms. The goal is achieved in any case. The only time an effort has been made to challenge this has been with the invention of certain browser add-ons that artificially eliminate the ability to see metrics: every tweet seems unloved, every influencer on the net seems to have no followers, each tweet has no date.

Goodhart’s Law is turning in its grave, and the content can suddenly become king again. Eliminating metrics not only puts content front and center, but it makes the internet less toxic and relieves us somewhat of the judgmental act of measuring our behavior and reflecting back on it. A good life, it must be remembered, has never been imagined by philosophers in frozen numbers. A thriving society is always defined by open and flexible thinking, with no numbers shaping our choice of what to write, how to act, or what to say.