Facebook soon to introduce reactions beyond just “like”

In the decade since Facebook was created, users have only had one way to instantly express their feelings towards a post: the ‘like’ button.

The Facebook ‘like’ icon. Creative Commons License.

For most, the button is used solely to express the meaning of the word it possesses – being drawn to or finding enjoyment in something. For others, however, the button has become a tool used to express more. When personal hardships are shared, posts are ‘liked’ to show empathy. When global tragedies are shared, posts are ‘liked’ to show support. Users are limited to a single button to express emotion; consequently, many have created an additional, unspoken use for it.

“People usually understand your intentions when you ‘like’ a negative post,” said junior Vincent Liu. “You’re not saying that you like a global tragedy; you like the message that the post is spreading.”

However, not everybody feels comfortable using the button for posts about events and topics that aren’t very fitting to ‘like.’ Why would they ‘like’ a status about the death of a close friend’s loved one? It could possibly show understanding and support, but wouldn’t it also, to some degree, ‘like’ the heartbreaking event itself? At the very least, some believe, there should be a ‘dislike’ button that can be used to send the message that the tragedies and atrocities they’re reading about aren’t being approved of.


Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder and chief executive, answers questions at a conference in 2012. Creative Commons License.

Co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, acknowledged this long-desired request at a Q&A at Facebook headquarters in September, when he announced that his team has been working on a new ‘dislike’ feature and are “very close to shipping a test of it.”

At the time of the announcement, the only detail Mr. Zuckerberg shared was that the new feature wouldn’t work like a ‘downvote’ button, as seen on another popular social media website, Reddit. He recognized the potential danger in that system, saying that the Facebook team didn’t want create that sort of community which spreads negativity.

“What [users] really want is to be able to express empathy,” Mr. Zuckerberg noted, recognizing the already established, unspoken purpose attached to the button.

Still, the looming possibility of a ‘dislike’ option quickly lit up the Internet and brought forth potential consequences.

In an article in Vanity Fair, writer Kia Makarechi suggested that an addition of a ‘dislike’ button would spur a transformative “adjustment in the tone that more than a billion people use each month to consume content.”

Because of the limited ‘like’ tool given to Facebook users, much of the news that goes viral on the social media website is light and positive – a cute video of a puppy or a story about a celebrity’s new baby. Perhaps an addition of a ‘dislike’ button would create a “more casual, and less hate-fueled” sharing of serious topics. Or maybe it would cause more ‘depressing’ topics to come up on users’ newsfeeds.

CNN reporter Kelly Wallace focused more aspects of small-scale Facebook communities in her article and discussed the risk of increased cyber bullying. The concept of ‘likes’ is already an increasingly unhealthy obsession among teens today; imagine the damage a few ‘dislikes’ could do.

“I’ve seen it a lot in high school where, when people make a funny comment on a post, they really look at how many people ‘like’ that comment,” said senior Adriana Ballas. “It’s almost as if their confidence boosts when they see those ‘likes.’”

Because adolescents constantly attempt to define themselves, they crave positive feedback to fuel this self-discovery, says teen development specialist, Dr. Robyn Silverman. Social media offers an opportunity to garner that type of information instantly – through likes, comments, or other forms of fleeting social validation – which can turn an innocent sharing of a teen’s daily life into a detrimental obsession with online approval.

YouTube star Rebecca Black sings in her music video, “Friday.” Screencapture from YouTube video

Other social media websites that have an implemented a ‘dislike’ button provide fitting examples of the negative consequences that can arise from the use of such a button. The videos on Youtube that have gained more ‘dislikes’ than they have ‘likes’ have become infamous – Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video and multiple Justin Bieber music videos, to name a few. The comment section is also filled with criticism, hatred, and unregulated use of profanity – all of which encourage the negative, detrimental use of social media.

Journalist Sophia Nelson also emphasizes the danger of adding a feature like a ‘dislike’ button, as she mentions in her book, “The Woman Code,” that it would only “encourage anger, more bullying, and more pain to those on the receiving end of it all.”

Yet in spite of, or perhaps because of, the overwhelmingly negative response to the initial announcement, the executive Facebook team soon released more details on the new feature.

On Oct. 8, the team announced that a pilot test of “Reactions” was launched in Ireland and Spain, in which Facebook-custom emojis could be used to respond in a variety of ways to posts. When users hold a click on the ‘like’ button, there are options to respond with a heart, a laughing face, a happy face, a stunned face, a sad face, and an angry face – each paired with captions describing the emotion.

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The post by Facebook’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, emphasized the fact that although there wouldn’t be a straightforward ‘dislike’ button, the team hoped this variety of responses would “address the spirit of [the] request more broadly,” in a way that is “elegant and fun.”

Senior Erika Dinsmore believes that this is a much better path to head down as opposed to one including a ‘dislike’ button. It could potentially “have people reacting to things even more,” she believes. “Maybe [the multiple emotions] would give them more of a reason to respond to something they see on Facebook.”

Although word hasn’t yet come out from the feature’s trial users, hopefully soon the approaching change will create an opportunity for a more accurate expression of emotion for users, steering clear from any negativity.