The key to a better social network isn’t liking something or not. It’s expressing empathy across the digital divide.
image via vimeo screen capture
Are we ready to live in a post-“Like” world?
That, at least, is what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has in mind for us, announcing recently that his company was well underway developing a new interaction button to go alongside the social media giant’s now-ubiquitous “thumbs up” icon. Zuckerberg’s announcement came during a recent Q&A, where he was asked about the possibility of adding things like “I’m sorry,” “Interesting” or even the long-sought-after “Dislike” button to a user’s palette of interaction options.
Media outlets were quick to jump on the “Facebook is making a ‘Dislike’ button” bandwagon, but that’s not exactly what Zuckerberg has in mind. In fact, using language that seems specifically designed as a swipe against Reddit’s up/down voting structure, Zuckerberg hinted at designing a more textured type of interaction: Here’s what he actually said:
People aren’t looking for an ability to downvote other people’s posts. What they really want is to be able to express empathy. Not every moment is a good moment, right? 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
The goal, then, seems not to be to add a barbed arrow of displeasure into a Facebook user’s quiver of stock responses. Rather, it’s to provide a measure of nuance that extends beyond a “Like/Dislike” binary.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, nothing yet. Aside from Zuckerberg’s statement, and a similarly unspecific one made in December, not much is actually known about what Facebook’s new feature would actually look like. Still, speculation has run rampant, with opinion divided on whether offering any sort of alternative to Facebook’s single, unambiguously positive button option would both make the site more negative for users, as well as scare off brands from advertising across the social network.
Concerns as to whether a “Dislike” button (or anything less that full-throated positivism, for that matter) could somehow hurt a Facebook user’s experience are, however, overblown. Anyone worried that Facebook could become a more negative place simply by introducing a new button has clearly never spent all that much time on the internet, where negativism, malice, and general dick-ish behavior are doing just fine, button or not.
But if a straightforward “Dislike” button isn’t what Zuckerberg has in mind, what could Facebook do to help make the site, and the internet in general, a better place? The key, as Zuckerberg points out, is “empathy”–the ability to make an emotional connection–both positive and negative–with someone else.
image via wikimedia commons
Imagine, then, buttons that could express an array of conditional responses: Sympathy, support, curiosity, even ambivalence. Unburdened by the fear that their “Like” could be misinterpreted by the recipient, users might feel more at ease responding to one another’s posts–not just the light, silly stuff, but the serious, significant, and sometimes-unpleasant things, as well. The rate of interactions between people could increase, and with it, a sense of connection–of shared experience, no matter how fleeting or ephemeral.
Of course, Facebook users have always had the ability to express the full range of emotional responses since the site’s inception: Write a comment. But for those uncomfortable with the prospect of composing a full message for someone with whom they may have grown out of touch, or intimated a topical significance of a friend’s status update, Zuckerberg’s empathetic announcement should be welcome news.
Or, at the very least, well worth a “Like.”