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The curious case of the missing Instagram likes

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Last week, I mentioned in passing this story in Canada's Globe and Mail, a high-level look at smartph
 
January 15 · Issue #63 · View online
The Interface
Last week, I mentioned in passing this story in Canada’s Globe and Mail, a high-level look at smartphone addiction that I was was notable mostly for the way it showed how tech anxieties are going mainstream. I was wrong! There was a much more interesting tidbit, which you may have seen going semi-viral yesterday in a screenshot from entrepreneur Andy Caravos. It argued that Instagram throttles your likes to keep you coming back for more:
The makers of smartphone apps rightly believe that part of the reason we’re so curious about those notifications is that people are desperately insecure and crave positive feedback with a kneejerk desperation. Matt Mayberry, who works at a California startup called Dopamine Labs, says it’s common knowledge in the industry that Instagram exploits this craving by strategically withholding “likes” from certain users. If the photo-sharing app decides you need to use the service more often, it’ll show only a fraction of the likes you’ve received on a given post at first, hoping you’ll be disappointed with your haul and check back again in a minute or two. “They’re tying in to your greatest insecurities,” Mr. Mayberry said.
The author apparently made no effort to ask Instagram about a claim that, as far as I can tell, is not “common knowledge” in Silicon Valley, on account of being false. Corazos got 5.5K retweets, even after Instagram co-founder and chief technical officer Mikey Krieger denied the claim. Both Krieger and independent software engineer Sarah Mei offered compelling explanations for why people received their precious likes at different intervals.
On one hand, it’s hard to think of a group easier to mock than people complaining they are not receiving their Instagram likes in a timely fashion. On the other, it’s true that social networks manipulate us to spend ever-larger portions of our lives there. So what to make of it?
In October, The Verge surveyed Americans about how they viewed tech companies and found that Facebook has a trust problem.
In a polarizing age, Facebook appears to be one of the most divisive companies. Fewer people said they would recommend Facebook to a friend or family member than would recommend Amazon, Google, Apple, or Microsoft. More people say they greatly distrust it than any member of the big five. 
That trust problem is one source for the immortal rumor that Facebook surreptitiously listens to you using your smartphone in order to target ads at you. As with Instagram like throttling, it’s a lie that feels true — and understanding why it isn’t requires the kind of detailed technical explanation that most people won’t make time for.
Taylor Lorenz uses the incident to argue that people who accidentally tweet false information ought to delete their tweets, and they should. But for Facebook, the implications feel even more distressing. As the company grows, the surfaces on which it generates new conspiracy theories grows linearly. As trust in the platform declines, potential public-relations crises begin blooming faster.
If nothing else, this Instagram hoax illustrates why the company has a financial incentive to limit the spread of fake news: Sometimes the victim is Facebook itself.

Democracy
Philippines Shuts Down News Site Critical of Rodrigo Duterte
In Germany, online hate speech has real-world consequences
In Some Countries, Facebook’s Fiddling Has Magnified Fake News
Facebook's Adam Mosseri on Why You'll See Less Video, More From Friends
Facebook Couldn't Handle News. Maybe It Never Wanted To.
Marketers Say Facebook’s News Feed Update Will Be ‘Nail in the Coffin’ for Organic Posts
Elsewhere
Inside Telegram’s ambitious $1.2B ICO to create the next Ethereum
Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey to Leave Disney’s Board
YouTube’s Logan Paul Projects Are On Hold ‘Indefinitely,’ But Execs Aren’t Cutting Ties With Him
Teens Aren’t Partying Anymore. They're on Social Media.
We regret to inform you that the days-without-a-Quiz-Daddy-content-item has once again been set back to zero. Thanks to my friend Sam Sheffer, who interviewed the Trap Trebek at CES:
Launches
Facebook is testing private comments
Jotdown
Takes
Facebook is done with quality journalism. Deal with it.
Facebook killing news is the best thing that ever happened to news
Letter to Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook News Feed change hides news, hurts nation
The newsfeed and facebook’s China problem
I mentored Mark Zuckerberg. Here’s my road map for fixing Facebook.
And finally ...
Projector Lights Up Trump's D.C. Hotel With 'Shithole' And Poop Emojis
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Instagram conspiracy theories? casey@theverge.com 
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