For several years now, there have been rumours that Facebook has been planning to add a Dislike button to its news feed. It still hasn’t happened, and there are numerous articles dismissing it, and I remain skeptical. However, there are still a few stories keeping this rumour alive by raising this possibility once again.
● At first, I welcomed the idea because it would restore symmetry to blog posts. Why must we assume that people will like whatever we post? All opinions are important, and those who agree or disagree with our posts should be given equal treatment.
This feedback symmetry reminded me of a computer game I played on my Commodore-64 as a teenager during the 1980s. It was a driving games called Speed Racer, and there was some controversy when it was released because it was morally neutral. Just as in real life, a player could drive well or poorly. If you avoided the people who were crossing the road (and other obstacles), then you received “halo” points. You could also deliberately run over people, and receive “horn” points instead. It was entirely up to you. I thought it was a brilliant idea because it revealed so much about the character of the person playing it. If a game doesn’t guide your behaviour and allows you to be either good or bad, what choices will you make?
Similarly, a Dislike button will reveal to us, the character (or lack thereof) of our Facebook friends. Are they individuals who recognize the good in others, or will they strive to elevate their online profiles by stepping on the heads of others? The results could be very illuminating.
● A Dislike button is an appropriate response to bad news. If someone posts that a family member or a beloved pet had died, then liking that post will appear cold-hearted or cruel, and it certainly won’t reflect the sentiment that you intended to convey: sympathy or empathy.
● Growing up, my mom used to tell me “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”. I didn’t appreciate this advice at the time, because I felt that positive and negative comments should both be expressed freely. As an adult, I now see the wisdom of her words. This, in a sense, is what Facebook has implemented with the absence of a Dislike button.
● From time to time, one of my friends will share a poster encouraging everyone to go an entire day (or longer) without criticizing others. This is a good habit to develop, and the absence of a Dislike button makes it easier to accomplish this.
● The current arrangement makes it easy to praise but more difficult to criticize. If you like someone’s post, then it takes just a second to click on the Like button. If you don’t like or agree with a post, then you can still register your disapproval, but only via a comment. You have to compose your thoughts and type them out. This takes time and effort, which may discourage people who are merely reacting to something. Only those who feel strongly about an issue will take the time to write a reply.
● A Dislike button generates feedback that it devoid of context and justification. As mentioned above, if you want to criticize a post, then you should at least explain, in detail, exactly what bothers you about it, by (ideally) crafting a reasoned, structured and logical argument. Otherwise, having a Dislike button is the social equivalent of walking up to people and yelling “You suck!” and then walking away. They will have no idea why you are so incensed, and you will have lost an opportunity to explain exactly what their perceived shortcoming is.
● You may be doing more harm than you realize. The first thirty seconds of a recent PBS documentary called Generation Like illustrates how important it is for today’s young people to be liked by their friends, and that their self-esteem is often determined by how much positive feedback they receive from their social media posts. The absence of positive feedback is viewed by them as a negative thing, rather than something neutral. In fact, receiving fewer Likes than they expected is also viewed negatively, even though it is still positive feedback. This, to me, illustrates the fragility of the teenage ego and their longing for appreciation and acceptance. Imagine how hurt and sorrowful these young people would feel if their Facebook posts started receiving an abundance of Dislikes?
● A Dislike button will promote a binary view of issues, rather than encouraging a lively debate or a nuanced argument. People will generally travel the path of least resistance, and when faced with a Like and Dislike button, I predict that the majority will choose one or the other, rather than reply with a thoughtful opinion in the comments box. There could be a middle ground to an issue or perhaps another illuminating angle that would be stifled by the Like and Dislike buttons.
● Finally, I predict that a Dislike button will lead to an increase in online bullying and harassment. Nefarious and mean-spirited individuals could navigate to a person’s Facebook profile and systematically Dislike every single post.
This harassment could also be amplified quite easily, under Facebook’s current feedback system. As you know, after you click on Like, the text changes immediately to Unlike. I’ve never had a reason to click on it, but it’s a useful feature if you ever change your mind or if you clicked on Like by mistake. Now, imagine that a bully has clicked on the Dislike hyperlink under someone’s post. A notification is generated automatically, and that person will see a red numeral 1 in the status bar. Clicking on it will indicate that someone dislikes his or her message. The bully can then un-dislike the comment, and a few seconds later, click on the Dislike icon again, which will presumably send another notification to the poster. This can go on continually, and repeatedly for each post. For those who have that much hated in their soul and who also have the time and energy to do this, their repeated disliking and un-disliking will generate a non-stop barrage of negative notifications. I’m already cringing at the thought.
Until we mature into more benevolent creatures who (to quote Henry Higgins, who was paraphrasing Shakespeare) possess “the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein”, I think that the current Facebook feedback configuration is the best one: make it easy to praise others and difficult to disparage them.