Facebook Like Numbers Are Inflated

// // November 05th 2010 // Social Media + Technology

As you surf the web today you’ll inevitably run into Facebook’s Like button.

number of likes

There are a number of implementations but they all tell you how many Likes that item (or object in Open Graph speak) has received.

When a Like is not a Like

But did 938 people really Like this rather interesting Slate article about Netflix? No.

actual like count

Only 130 actually liked this article. The rest of that 938 is composed of shares and comments.

What you’re looking at above is XML output from a links.getStats call from Facebook’s old REST API. The data definitions for the link_stat table detail what share, like, comment and total represent.

Link_Stat Data Definitions

The Like number shown to users is actually the total_count – “the total number of times the URL has been shared, liked, or commented on.”

I’m not particularly perturbed by lumping share and like together – those two actions are similar. In both cases I’m explicitly choosing to interact and promote that item. And I suspect that they’re doing this for some amount of backwards compatibility.

But comments seems like a stretch to me. I’m choosing to interact with a combination of item and person. My comment might have little to do with the item and more to do with the person sharing it. In this instance I could have commented on the movie viewing habits of the person sharing the item. Does that mean I ‘Like’ that item?

Like Number Inflation

At a minimum, I think this is a manipulation of perception. The numbers are part of a Like marketing campaign. Large Like numbers throughout the Internet make it seem like the functionality is being used frequently. Yet, here we see that the specific Like feature isn’t as popular as we might have suspected.

I’m still a fan (pun intended) of the Like button and the Open Graph, but showing this inflated number (even if it can be rationalized) seems disingenuous. What do you think?

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Comments About Facebook Like Numbers Are Inflated

// 10 comments so far.

  1. Scott @ OneCoach // November 05th 2010

    Definitely disingenuous / misleading. There’s no doubt that a substantial number of those likes, shares and comments overlap. I don’t know about you, but unless I’m disagreeing with a post I comment on, I almost always like and/or share it as well.

    If they were mutually exclusive, I wouldn’t have a problem with them combining these multiple variations into one composite score, but they’re not.

  2. aj // November 07th 2010

    Thanks for weighing in Scott.

    Yes, it doesn’t seem like these are mutually exclusive. So a Like and a Comment from the same person may count twice.

    I’m not even sure if Comments is a count of the number of unique people commenting or simply a count of the number of comments. If it’s the latter, two comments on an item from one person could ring up two additional ‘Likes’.

  3. Pas // November 08th 2010

    I think the number of likers in the open graph admin pages is the number of sharers of the content, isn’t it?

  4. Adam Moro // November 08th 2010

    I’d say it’s a little misleading but come on. There are two graphics there. One for the Like button and one for displaying the number of comments/likes/shares/etc. Plus, the number is contained in a graphic that looks like the typical graphic used to display the number of comments on many blogs out there. Again, I do think it’s a little misleading but accusing people of inflating their “likes” is kind of harsh.

  5. Robin // July 12th 2011

    I also think this is misleading. It can’t be used easily for a voting-mechanism. Is there a way to show only the like-counts?

  6. AJ Kohn // July 13th 2011


    Well the last time I looked the Like count was a separate field so you could extract just that number and display it, though it would take a fair amount of customization to do so.

  7. e─člence // January 06th 2012

    can we see how many people liked a page/pages without putting the likebutton? is there any application or webpage for this ? (like bulk pagerank checker)

  8. AJ Kohn // January 06th 2012

    Well, if you’re looking to find out the number of +1s, Likes and Tweets a page might have you could give the Simple Social Metrics Chrome Extension a try. It’s a simple but handy tool.

  9. Yair Spolter // April 24th 2012

    AJ, thanks for this terrific post!
    Is this info still correct to date, or has FB made changes in how they tally the number? (April 24, 2012)

  10. Claire Finnie // September 04th 2012

    Totally agree. My actual likes number around 21 and yet the number on my like list is something like 70 odd. I know it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things but it irritates me. It makes the things I do actually like seem less important.

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