Thoughts on Facebook Dislike Button

Posted on September 17, 2015 by Richard Goulter

So, recently it hit my newsfeed that Facebook was working on a ‘dislike button’.
Except it’s not going to be a ‘dislike’ button, so much as a ‘condolences’ button; for giving one’s regards if a post isn’t appropriate to ‘like’.
– This subtlety didn’t particularly reach the many who failed to read past a headline title. (That is, pretty much everyone on my newsfeed who shared it).
Which leads to reactions like “finally” or “about time” from some,
and from the gentler parts of the internet reactions like “oh no, the trolls are going to ruin Facebook!”.

It’s a little frustrating.

finally” is a classic reaction to this; I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “if only Facebook had a dislike button” snark from the time I started using Facebook.
But Facebook doesn’t exactly work that way.
You’re ‘friends’ with the people on Facebook, with some kind of connection to the contacts In-Real-Life. That’s quite different to other online sites where you can upvote/downvote posts. – It’s reasonable to ‘like’, or to comment “I love this!” for posts you like, much less reasonable to leave a comment “who cares?” or “you’re stupid” for content you don’t like.

Those concerned about “trolls” or about filling the site with negativity are also misguided. (I mean, even if they were right about it being a “dislike” button).
Partly because friend-to-friend ‘dislikes’ wouldn’t be all that high (though, say, advertising posts or posts on unpopular brands would get quite ‘disliked’).
But also, even the idea of trying to construct a filtered community, constrained in thought by the linguistic allowances of Facebook just sounds really concerning to me. (Let’s not say “bad”, let’s say “double plus un-good”, anyone?).
– Fortunately, the words we speak don’t shape reality (it’s the other way around), but the desire is still unsettling. (Although, admittedly, that’s getting rather alarmist about Facebook, as well as making an Orwell analogy, so, whatever).

But the problem of ‘people not being nice to each other’ isn’t only present in (nor encouraged by) forums which feature dislike buttons, and other negative feedback.
– Both Facebook and Twitter are vaguely similar in feedback mechanisms: a post/tweet can be liked/favourited, or replied-to, or shared. These are all “constructive”, positive things. The ‘negative’ feedback for each is more passive: you can unfollow/mute an account you don’t like, or you can unfriend/block an account you really don’t like, but these indications aren’t explicit on a newsfeed/timeline. – Facebook/Twitter differ in terms of visibility of posts: Facebook’s profiles are private-by-default, Twitter’s are public-by-default. This affects discussion.
The point, is, though, even absent of ‘negative’ feedback like a ‘dislike’ button, these social media sites are capable of awful harassment. People see something they don’t like, it angers them, people share it with their network, who then also get angry and share it, etc.
– Online shaming is awful, it’s people treating other people like they’re not people, and its presence isn’t dictated by a fucking ‘dislike’ button.

Worse, though, is that.. even short of ‘online shaming’, there’s nothing amazing about users of social media only being in a network with people whom they like.
It’s remarkable, concerning to see what controversies on Twitter look like. (Hint: They’re the ones where people on each side of the discussion only interact with the people who agree with them, and there’s little discussion between each side).
I’m a big fan of Jonathon Haidt’s talk here, discussing is ‘Righteous Mind’ book. And my thinking is, if people limit their interaction online to those they like, you won’t have folk who only share posts from Fox news being ‘friends’ with folk who only share their posts from Al-Jazeera America (or whatever). – And emphasis on “warm, fuzzy, no negativity” is more likely to lend to a close-minded, homogeneous community than a community which people disagree with each other.

Doom & gloom aside, is there a way to have some discussion forum which’d encourage diversity, encourage people to be able to respectfully disagree with one another?
Because I can’t think up incentive for folk to visit a site for people to tell each other “hey, you’re wrong about whatever”.

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