Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the world’s biggest social network is working on something akin to a ‘dislike’ button, to provide an alternative to the ‘like’ option.
Zuckerberg addressed the concerns of many users and critics by stating that he didn’t want the new button to become a way of spreading disapproval, or of “down-voting” other people’s posts. He reassured us that this is not “the kind of community we want to create”. Rather, the new button is intended as a way of expressing empathy with posts.
This is welcome news for many Facebook users. There are times when you might wish to acknowledge and show support in response to a post, but have felt that it would be inappropriate to click the ‘like’ button, for example in the event of a death. As Mark Zuckerberg said: “not every moment is a good moment”.
For many, social media has become a part of daily life. It makes sense that as our usage of sites like Facebook has increased over the years, so too has the amount of things we feel comfortable sharing.
The power of social media sharing has increased dramatically in the 11 years since Facebook’s launch. A recent notable example of its social and political power happened during the recent refugee crisis, and the shift in attitudes which was triggered after a distressing photo was widely shared.
Perhaps the development of a new, alternative button to the ‘like’ is a logical step to take, as the way that we use and harness the power of social media changes. But are there other reasons for developing this button now?
What’s behind the decision?
It’s important to remember that Facebook is a business. It has been suggested that this new button is just the latest in a chain of developments by the social network aimed at tying people into the platform at a deeper, more emotional level. For example, the ‘On this Day’ feature released in March this year triggers nostalgia in the user, emphasising the notion that Facebook is a scrapbook of your life with real sentimental value.
This emotional connection to Facebook encourages us to keep using it on a daily basis, which is exactly what they want. As a business, Facebook is even more valuable than Walmart, largely due to the huge amount of consumer data that it holds. This data is valuable to advertisers, who want to target their ads as effectively as possible. This new button will allow Facebook to get to know you better, what you ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ (or empathise with), adding another layer of valuable data for advertisers to utilise.
There are also algorithmic concerns which could have been a catalyst for the decision. Facebook’s News Feed is designed to show you the posts that you are most likely to engage with, based on your past behaviour. Therefore, posts which users may have felt uncomfortable liking or sharing are potentially being missed and lost in the digital void. This new button is one way to solve that problem and encourage even more engagement.
What are the potential issues of a Facebook dislike button?
In 2012, Facebook conducted an experiment to determine how users responded when their News Feeds were altered to highlight either positive or negative posts from their friends. The results showed what experts call ‘emotional contagion’; emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own, which is reflected in the attitude of our posts. In 2014, Zuckerberg commented on the ‘dislike’ button debate by saying that the company was being cautious because it wanted to avoid spreading negativity.
This is still a real concern, which is probably why Facebook are dodging the ‘dislike’ label and seeking an alternative. Having the option to ‘dislike’ a post could encourage trolling and online bullying. On a less serious note, users could have the chance to ‘dislike’ all of the irritating adverts that pop up in our News Feeds, which advertisers will obviously want to avoid. Given the psychological experiment they previously conducted, and the evidence for ‘emotional contagion’, this could potentially turn Facebook into a miserable place to be very quickly.
A similar scenario was seen recently on Reddit.
Thankfully, several alternatives to the ‘dislike’ button have been suggested, and are probably closer to what we will actually end up with. A ‘hug’ button has been requested many times, which could be the perfect response to that sad post from your friend about a missing cat, but perhaps not to more serious or political updates.
A ‘solidarity’ button has also been mentioned, which could cover most bases effectively. But given the fact that Zuckerberg himself said that the new button should allow people to “express empathy”, I think we will most likely have an ’empathise’ or ‘sympathise’ button on our News Feeds in the not too distant future. What do you think?