Remember a few years ago when people couldn’t stop talking about how Facebook needs a dislike button? Facebook have decided to listen, and I can’t help but wonder “why?”
According to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the button will enable users to easily express empathy when a friend posts about a negative event which users wouldn’t feel comfortable liking, but wish to interact with. He hopes users will use the button, which according to Zuckerberg is very close to being ready for user-testing, to be effortlessly sympathetic to their fellow users, only requiring a simple mouse-click for consolation.
But Facebook users are already concerned that the dislike button could make it even easier to be bullied online, an experience which is already too common amongst young people. With the addition of the dislike button, all it will take is that simple click, with no thought required, to tell someone that you don’t like their photo, their status, or that they’ve posted that they’re “feeling happy”. Targets of bullying can be quickly and effortlessly reminded that they’re not liked.
In my mind, a button can never express empathy like a written or vocalised word. Empathy isn’t about saying “Oh, your grandma died? I dislike this.” The dislike button is somehow even less meaningful than the like button: a flotilla of likes is a supportive crowd, but a horde of dislikes is just a group of people who only cared enough to press a button as they scrolled past.
Maybe the dislike button can be better used to express taste, and simpler emotions, than to express real, gritty human emotions like grief or empathy. Got a new car? Dislike – I’m jealous. You had to wake up at 5am today? Dislike. You’re watching Strictly Come Dancing? Dislike – I’m not a fan. You actually like Star Wars: Episode II? DISLIKE.
But even as a way of expressing a simple opinion, it all seems a little blunt. If you disagree with someone’s opinion, wouldn’t it be more mature and intelligent to respond with actual words? Wouldn’t words be both more constructive and communicative? We’re not yet robots, and we don’t necessarily interpret emotions as simply as one. If the dislike button makes its way onto our news feeds, there are going to be times when its meaning isn’t fully understood. One flippant “dislike” too many could force users to avoid the site, if every time they express an opinion, someone gives them the thumbs down without even explaining why. Is it a joke? Do they hate me? Are they empathising? Or do they wish I had never said anything?
While a like button seems sensible, a dislike button seems a little surplus to requirements, and a little too simple for the emotions it was designed to convey. It’s much easier to interpret a dislike as something unkind. A 14-year old girl might see a dislike and wonder “why have they disliked my status? Is it empathy or do they actually not like what I’m saying?” And really, it could be either. Friends can become enemies in seconds if they don’t like your photo; teenagers can be put off ever “putting themselves out there” online for fear of more criticism. A quick, clear message can be sent to tell someone that you don’t like them, with just a twitch of the finger and no time to think of the consequences.
As a blogger, I don’t look forward to the moment that someone dislikes one of my blog posts. Call me sensitive or old-fashioned, but I’d rather someone simply told me if they don’t agree with something I’ve said. Don’t just give me an ambiguous thumbs down, and leave me wondering what it was I did wrong.