Facebook reactions: thumbs up or down?

Exeposé Science & Tech online (2 March 2016)

They wanted a dislike button. Instead, they got six different buttons. But the Facebook world isn’t satisfied. And (ironically) they’ve now got a few different ways to show it. Yep: Facebook’s ‘reactions’ feature finally reached our news feeds on February 24th.

The change is pretty simple. Rather than just being able to ‘like’ or comment on posts by friends, family and public accounts, Facebook users can now choose from six different reactions – all symbolised by cute little emoji. Alongside the classic ‘like,’ you can now respond to posts with ‘love,’ ‘wow,’ ‘haha,’ ‘sad’ and ‘angry.’

That’s right: instead of reinforcing meaningful communication between internet users, Facebook’s chosen to reduce the spectrum of human emotion to six little cartoons. We don’t even have to type “lmao” while sitting there stony-faced any more. Or hunt out a laughing face on the iPhone keypad. There’s an automated response just waiting to get our point across, no effort spared.

Ah, if only that was the issue getting the media’s knickers in a twist.

Thing is, Facebook’s algorithms don’t distinguish between ‘like,’ ‘lmao’ or ‘I’m-bloody-furious.’ Anything you click in reaction to a post simply counts as engagement. And engagements mean you’re more likely to see posts like this again on your feed.

So, as The Independent gleefully reported, clicking ‘angry’ on a post just means more posts like it will appear on your feed. How scandalous.

But they’re kind of missing the point – as hordes of Facebook commenters quickly told them.

“These “reactions” were due to people’s outcry at not being able to “dislike” a sad post about a family bereavement or such like,” the top commenter explained. “It was never a way to show you didn’t want to see something… If that is the case, unfollow or block? Pretty simple!”

Others quickly agreed. “Well obviously,” one user added. “Being angry at the plight of refugees doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hear about them anymore…….”

Speaking at Facebook’s headquarters in October – when we all still thought a ‘dislike’ button might be on the cards – founder Mark Zuckerberg explained: “people aren’t looking for an ability to down-vote other people’s posts. What they really want is to be able to express empathy.”

His two examples were the refugee crisis and family members passing away. So you can’t say the guy doesn’t know his audience.

Basically, Facebook’s negative “emotions” are for those who want to express sympathy and solidarity. The people who, until now, found themselves the centre of a comments-section shitstorm when they ‘liked’ that story about a kid being killed in a tragic accident.

The ‘like’ was ambiguous: were they really just showing their respect? Acknowledging they’d read it and cared enough to want the story to show on others’ newsfeeds (but not quite enough to share it)? Or were they secretly loving this gruesome news?

It’s all cleared up now, though. Phew. It was almost like we were gonna have to use words to express ourselves…

Image: Wikimedia Commons

>>View original Exeposé Science & Tech feature>>

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