Feelings on Facebook: What’s in a button


During the last Townhall Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg in September 15th, there was massive media reporting on a ‘dislike’ button that Facebook announced its testing. Many commentators focused on a ‘dislike’ tool that would express users’ negative sentiments towards other users’ posts. However, a closer attention to what Mark Zuckerberg actually said reveals that the new feature might probably be much more than just another button.

Marck Zuckerberg: ‘It took us a while to get here. We did not want to build just a ‘dislike’ button, because we do not want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts. You know this does not seem like the kind of community that we want to create, I mean, you do not want to go and share some moment that was important for you in your day and have someone down-vote it, ok? That is not what we are here to build in the world (…) Not every moment is a good moment if you share something that’s sad like a refugee crisis that touches you or a family member passes away, it may not be comfortable to like that post…I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it.’

Special attention should be given, in my opinion, at Mark Zuckerberg’s sentence: ‘I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it’.

A ‘dislike’ button might have (and most probably will have) many different forms than just a down-vote sign. In fact, the word ‘dislike’ might not even be the case here. The introduction of a new feature expressing –other than ‘like’- sentiment on Facebook will probably affect a variety of factors, concerning users but also Brands: 1) it might affect the techniques of what users upload on the platform 2) it will probably influence content and creative uploaded by Brand pages. In fact, in the case of an actual ‘dislike’ button, Brands need to start thinking about their strategy towards users who will disapprove their content through this new Facebook feature. On the other hand, they will have more opportunities to track and analyse a more complex variety of sentiments and gain valuable insights about their customers.

My personal view on this is that for an advertising and data giant like Facebook, the introduction of a new complex feature, expressing negative feelings and/or empathy, cannot carry any toxic connotations that might jeopardize its growth ability, especially among younger age groups. This is why I do believe that a ‘dislike’ button as seen by media so far is strongly debatable. Facebook has suffered heavy criticism on their data privacy policies over the last years (Belgian Privacy Commission, 2015) and has caused major turmoil after the publication of the Kramer, Guillory and Hancock (2014) work on emotional contagion. It would definitely not be wise to create more public and media uproar by promoting conflict through a new feature. Hence Mark Zuckerberg’s careful (and a bit vague) selection of words during his Q&A, Facebook’s unwillingness to confirm the introduction of a ‘dislike’ button and testing that has just started offers some food for thought, but should restrain from jumping into conclusions.

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