Thursday, 17 September 2015

Why the dislike button adds nothing to Facebook!

At his Townhall Q and A on 15th September, Mark Zuckerberg did not announce for certain a ‘dislike’ button, despite all the reporting focusing on this as if it is an imminent future additional feature. What he actually said was that Facebook are considering another feature that goes alongside the ‘like’ button, such as a ‘dislike’ button that could be used for ‘expressing empathy’. This post will explain why I think including a ‘dislike’ button does not add anything to the dynamics of the scenario of the already existing ‘like’ button.

The singular ‘like’ option allows users to select ‘like’ for any number of reasons, here are some examples. It might be for liking the content of a positive post, or for when a friend has achieved something (such as completing their dissertation), or it may be they have reached an anniversary of some kind. It also allows you to agree with the contents of a post – this could be something to do with a shared political opinion, or showing approval for an event that a friend may be attending, for example. There are many reasons why you would click ‘like’ to express an actual (genuine) liking of a post’s content.

One of the problem arises, as acknowledged by Zuckerberg, when you don’t like the content of the post, even if you may like the sentiment behind why someone has posted it. Zuckerberg’s example is the current refugee crisis. Sometimes people qualify this in their comments when they are liking a post the contents of which are upsetting or of which they have sympathy. It can sometimes feel ‘wrong’ to ‘like’ posts if you feel clicking ‘like’ does not reflect the complete response you have towards that post. So let’s use this as our example, since Zuckerberg used this is in his Q and A session.

Zuckerberg says that a ‘dislike’ button in this instance would allow people to show their empathy in a given situation. But does it really do this? Say you don’t want to ‘like’ a post on the refugee crisis because it does not express your feelings about it, and not clicking anything clearly doesn’t show the opposite since it does not recognise your acknowledgement of the post in any way at all (unless you write a comment). Also, you may be worried that if you do click ‘like’, it may seem you are liking that there is a crisis, rather than showing your empathy towards the refugees. So there appears to be a ‘lack’ in Facebook in providing you the scope to express yourself in this particular scenario. So, how would ‘dislike’ make up for this lack?

In the way that the ‘like’ button works, the ‘dislike’ button works the same way but in reverse, actually adding nothing to the overall Facebook experience, except for further confusion and the need for people to continue to qualify their use of it. This is why: if you click ‘dislike’ on a post about the refugee crisis, what are you saying ‘dislike’ to? Are you actually saying you dislike the fact there are refugees suffering in this crisis? Possibly, in this situation, that may be the assumed response. But actually you could be saying that you dislike the post for a number of reasons. For instance, you may be someone who is totally unsympathetic to the crisis and has empathy for those countries staunchly protecting their borders. This is empathy, but not that described by Zuckerberg in his example.

Let’s take another more ambiguous example and assume that almost everyone would be sympathetic to the refugees and in that instance we would read the use of ‘dislike’ in meaning that. Let’s say a friend of yours is a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and they put up a link to an online newspaper about him being voted the new Labour leader, but upon reading the post it then appears to be from a right-wing newspaper criticising Corbyn’s new appointment. You may be a Corbyn supporter and are happy to hear about his new position, but unhappy to read the criticisms about him in the newspapers. What do you click on then?

Many posts are of this nature. A lot of the time our opinion of something is not completely ‘black and white’ and our empathy may be directed at some of the content of the post, but not all of it. Buttons denoting ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ simply reinforce the existing dynamic. I would suggest adding a ‘dislike’ button is worse than simply having a ‘like’ one, in that it adds another layer of ambiguity. Having a ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ appears to allow you take one of two positions on a post, but in fact these two positions are just the reverse of each other, forcing you into complete commitment in one direction or other, both choices being of the same dialectical structure. While it may work successfully in some scenarios, as is the case with the ‘like’ button, does it really improve the quality of our user experience, or does it just provide more usable data for Facebook?

NB: I originally thought about doing a deconstruction of the like/dislike feature since it lends itself well to Jacques Derrida’s themes of ‘the trace’ and ‘lack’. It would certainly suit an analysis using his concept of ‘the supplement’, which is an addition that is attached to something original to improve it. However, I wanted this post to be accessible. Despite this I will sign-off with a Derrida taster: ‘the supplement…adds only to replace [and] is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness’ (Of Grammatology).

Related Links:
Thank an aging audience for Facebook’s proposed ‘dislike’ button

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