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  • 10.08.15

Facebook’s New Passive Aggressive Dislike Button

And so Facebook can keep doing what Facebook does best–ruffle some feathers but never make you leave.

Facebook’s New Passive Aggressive Dislike Button
[Image: Facebook via The New York Times]

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg admitted that, following a lot of user requests, his team was exploring a dislike button. But according to a test some users are seeing in their feeds, since confirmed by the NYT, the dislike button probably won’t come in the form of a thumbs down. Instead? It’s a series of emoticons–much like you see on BuzzFeed articles–conveying love, laughter, joy, shock, sadness, and anger.

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You can shed a tear when someone posts that they’ve lost a beloved pet. You can drop anger when someone has been laid off unjustly. Finally, there’s a way to express, “I read this, and it sucks, and I wish I had more to say.” You can, in essence, sympathize with a tap. But very notably, there is no true “dislike” in these sentiments. You can’t say, “I don’t like that you shared this ignorant, strangely homophobic stance on gun control!” without actually, you know, saying it–and saying it in front of everyone you know. (And according to Pew Research, that’s highly unlikely. We self-censor on social networks when we disagree with people, while chiming in to lend support to a shared ideal.)

The reason why Facebook probably avoided this polar like/dislike approach is actually pretty simple. As one Facebook designer put it to me a few years back, “You want to know why there’s no dislike button? It’s because I’m trying to connect you to your family, you idiot!”

And therein lies the genius of one emoticon in particular: the upset face. In context, it will be wrought with incredible ambiguity. Take this phrase:

“I just don’t know why we still vaccinate! Vaccinations are KILLING US!”

What’s an anger face mean tagged on that post? Are you upset with the evil world of vaccinations? Or are you upset with the naive viewpoint of the writer? It’s totally unclear. Brilliant work, Facebook.

Because, yes, Facebook is taking over the publishing industry as we know it. But at its core, it’s still the slow-burn, combination of family and high school reunion that’s gone on a few awkward years too long at this point. We’re all tired and jittery from drinking too much punch. And the rented gym is just one failed tongue bite away from the whole party imploding on itself (or, at the very least, a few very hot-headed people).

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But Facebook, even though it induces FOMO, reminds us of the stupidity of our own social circles, and most of all, fails to make us happy, it never wants us to be so upset or miserable that we’ll actually leave. And so you have the anger emoji, cruising like a passive aggressive asymptote to true conflict, we can all mash our teeth and polite this party out a little bit longer.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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