Who knew how much we wanted to give everyone a thumbs down? Adam Mosseri, the head of Facebook’s news feed, told Bloomberg Business that the reason Facebook decided not to go with the much-requested dislike button was that it wouldn’t be “in the spirit of the product we’re trying to build.” The company instead has decided to go with 6 new emojis that were rolled out this past week in Spain and Ireland, with plans to eventually roll out the changes to all Facebook users. In a bit of irony, the current top comment from Facebook’s announcement of the new emojis, with 33,682 Likes, is a user saying “We want the dislike button, not this…” The emojis themselves span the range of laughter, surprise, sadness and anger, reading like the main character list from Pixar’s emotion-populated hit movie Inside Out, with one notable exception: disgust. (Anger lacks the quick flippant dismissal that is practically a pillar of online communication.) All this asks the question, does Facebook have something against the perfectly human emotion of disliking something? The answer requires looking a bit deeper within our online interactions to see why the internet powerhouse may be hesitant to install a permanent signal of negativity, and what that means as we continue to express ourselves online.
Facebook is so dominant on the internet landscape that expectations from its over 1.49 billion users can’t possibly meet the reality of what the company actually provides, which is simply the ability for users to connect with each other over its network. Unfortunately, sometimes this ability reveals things about other users that we’d prefer we didn’t know or rather not see. And while the obvious solution to this problem, “have you thought of not going on Facebook?” may not work for everyone, the dislike button option would likely lead to worse problems than it would purport to solve. Many companies have Facebook sites, and it would be easy to imagine a scenario for firms to deal with a rash of online dislike attacks to their profiles. These attacks could be sincere customer service issues, but are likely to also consist of competitive sniping from rivals. A more serious problem would be online bullying to individuals, a nasty issue with a resolution that will likely remain beyond the current powers of Facebook. In this light, Mosseri’s statement above makes perfect sense – one can imagine the proliferation of problems caused by rampant disliking within Facebook’s huge and diverse community.
Along with Facebook’s wrangling with the user feedback issue, another popular social platform is also dealing with the dilemma of adding features to its services. Twitter has long held off on a seemingly innocuous feature that has been constantly requested by its users: the ability to edit previous tweets. While it does offer the option to delete tweets, editing would seem like a no-brainer for the microblogging company given the number of times it has been requested. However, Twitter is unable to easily add editing due to its sensitivity around two of its core sharing abilities, the Re-Tweet and Favorite options. The counter argument against editing goes like this: you find a great random tweet that you enjoy, and you quickly Re-Tweet and Favorite for all your followers to see. The person who first posted that tweet, with the editing option, would be able to modify their tweet to something that you would not be too proud to have shared—the sky is the limit here, with options such as profanities and quotes from notable 20th century dictators being the main culprits—requiring you to be notified of how the offending quote has marred your twitter feed. Much like disliking on Facebook, editing on Twitter would potentially create more problems than it would solve, at least initially.
Therein lies the bigger issue—just how much do these companies owe us to use their free software and then complain about missing features? Of course they want the feedback, but they are not obligated in any way to respond to each and every request, even if it’s a massively popular one, if it’s destructive to the overall vision of what the company is trying to achieve. And as our social networking capabilities become more sophisticated and advanced, we owe it to ourselves and our personal network to use these social media services more responsibly before asking for bigger and brighter things from them. Even if it is just to give a thumbs down to your best friend’s selfie.