In a question and answer session with journalists on the 15th September, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, confirmed that the social media giant is working on a new button to add to their already ubiquitous social experience. Users immediately expected it to be named ‘dislike’, although Zuckerberg was quick to debunk this. But, would ‘dislike’ have been the best option? Should we have more opportunities to impose our negative feelings upon one another? Or should we have the freedom to express ourselves in as many ways as possible?
Zuckerberg and chums have long resisted such a button up to this point. When previously asked about the idea he has said, “That doesn’t seem like the kind of community that we want to create: You don’t want to go through the process of sharing some moment that was important to you in your day and have someone ‘downvote’ it.” Facebook weren’t always keen on a Reddit-style system in which social media posts and shared thoughts would be evaluated based on ‘upvotes’ versus ‘downvotes’, something we are now familiar with on platforms such as YouTube or Yik Yak.
But, times have changed, and in the Q&A Zuckerberg said, “People have asked about the ‘dislike’ button for many years, and probably hundreds of people have asked about this, and today is a special day because today is the day that I actually get to say we are working on it, and are very close to shipping a test of it.”
So, why the change of heart? Well, considering that the new button will not actually be named ‘dislike’ — as this particular term harbours too many negative connotations for Facebook — Zuckerberg feels we need more ways to express our emotions or reactions to what is shared online. “Not every moment is a good moment, right?” said Zuckerberg at the Q&A. “And, if you are sharing something that is sad, whether it’s something in current events like the refugee crisis that touches you or if a family member passed away, then it might not feel comfortable to ‘Like’ that post. But, your friends and people want to be able to express that they understand and that they relate to you.”
What the specific name of the button will be is as yet unconfirmed, but social media has proved all too often the power that negative behaviour and comments can have in the outside world. Only a cursory search is required for you to find victims of cyber bullying, and we’re almost desensitised to the consequences.
One such example is the tragic case of Jessica Cleland. Last year, Cleland took her own life after receiving a torrent of abuse on Facebook Messenger from those she had once counted as friends. It’s a narrative to which we are all accustomed, so, the question is, should we be able to interact with each other on Facebook in ways that could be construed as negative or upsetting to the sharer?
With the name of the button unannounced, it’s difficult to speculate how far it can be used to inflict personal and mental harm. Based on the extra details Zuckerberg added in his Q&A, it would appear that the button will have a more positive, compassionate and understanding edge. Some sources suggest that the button could be named ‘hug’, but this isn’t quite what users are believed to really want.
This, then, creates a new problem: should Facebook have a ‘dislike’ button after all? Yes, a click of the ‘dislike’ button could be perceived negatively and suppress or influence what is being said, but many will argue that some comments need shouting down. Facebook isn’t simply the land of unicorns, rainbows and tame gap year photos; it can be a place where all sorts of offensive, upsetting and insulting views can be shared that marginalise minorities or treat people unfairly — many are uncomfortable with the views shared on pages like Britain First for instance. To disagree with or ‘dislike’ something is a vital part of human interaction, and we should have the right to fully express our opinions without them being buried into the depths of the meme-saturated comments.
The addition of a new button is in fact a terrifically complex problem. Should Zuckerberg try his darnedest to limit our social media capabilities in the hope that we stop being so mean to each other? Given the awful stories about cyber bullying we hear about too often, it’s clear that that strategy doesn’t work. Instead, should we be liberated to express ourselves fully online, and challenge views that we disagree with?
If we do have a ‘dislike’ button, then where does Facebook stop? Not everything shared on Facebook fits into the Marmite-esque, binary categories of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. Should we then have an ‘indifferent’ button — which I daresay would prove particularly appealing to me. There are countless other reactions we have to the posts of others, so why should they be left out?
The problem lies within an inherently unsolvable issue: Facebook is attempting to capture the entirety of the human social experience, which is fundamentally impossible. Up to this point, the social network has believed it can construct a social narrative in which everything is positive all the time. So, it’s refreshing that Zuckerberg is recognising that the world isn’t all smiles. He is also right to recognise that issues like the refugee crisis elicit emotional reactions from us that are too complex for the limited means of expression we have available on Facebook. Zuckerberg aims to tackle the problem by allowing us more freedom to show our opinion, but, by just having another button that ties in with Facebook’s over-optimistic, simplistic narrative, Facebook will never go far enough.