X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, will no longer display the likes of users on public profiles. This move, confirmed by X's engineering team, is aimed at protecting users' public images and encouraging more candid engagement with content, particularly posts that might be considered controversial or "edgy."

Haofei Wang, X's director of engineering, explained the rationale behind the change: "Public likes are incentivizing the wrong behavior. Many people feel discouraged from liking content that might be 'edgy' in fear of retaliation from trolls, or to protect their public image. Soon you'll be able to like without worrying who might see it."

The announcement followed a discovery by MacRumors contributor Aaron Perris, who found a flag in X's iOS app that removes the "Likes" tab from user profiles. This discovery was quickly confirmed by X engineers on the platform.

X senior software engineer Enrique Barragan further clarified the specifics of the update. Users will still be able to see who liked their posts and the like count for all posts and replies. However, they will not be able to see the posts that others have liked or the "Liked" tab on profiles.

This change comes amidst a backdrop of controversy involving high-profile users who have faced backlash for their liking activity. For instance, the official accounts of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming were both criticized for liking pornographic content. Additionally, X Corp. CEO Elon Musk has been known to like transphobic posts, drawing significant public attention.

Since taking over the platform, Musk has implemented a series of changes that have sometimes appeared whimsical. These include the introduction of a Premium subscription option that initially made hiding likes a paid feature, the removal of the ability to block users, and the stripping of headlines from news post previews.

The decision to make likes private aims to counteract these negative incentives and foster a more authentic user experience. Wang emphasized that the more posts users like, the better their "For you" algorithm will become, suggesting that the change could enhance the personalization of content on users' feeds.

While the timeline for the rollout of this new feature remains unclear, its implications are substantial. All users, including Musk, will be able to like content without it being publicly visible, thus potentially changing the dynamics of user interaction on the platform.

The response from users and experts has been mixed. Some view the move as a positive step towards protecting user privacy and encouraging genuine engagement. Others, however, see it as a way to shield users, including influential figures, from accountability for their online behavior.

Janai Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, commented on the potential social impact: "This change could protect individuals from online harassment and allow for more honest engagement with diverse viewpoints. However, it also risks enabling the spread of harmful content without public oversight."

Despite the intended benefits, the decision to hide likes has sparked a broader discussion about the role of transparency and accountability in social media. Critics argue that by removing the visibility of likes, X may inadvertently reduce the pressure on users to engage responsibly and thoughtfully.

As the platform continues to evolve under Musk's leadership, the effects of this and other changes will be closely watched by both users and industry analysts. The shift to private likes marks another chapter in the ongoing transformation of X, reflecting broader trends and challenges in the social media landscape.