Facebook’s Dislike Button: What Shape Will It Really Take?

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Facebook is considering adding a new button for users to respond to others’ posts on its massive social network, and a debate over exactly what form its icon will take exposes the challenge in expressing the complex range of human sentiments and emotions with a simple button.

Ken Yeung reports for VentureBeat that Facebook is working on what chief executive Mark Zuckerberg referred to as a dislike button at his latest town hall Q&A session, held at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Users have consistently been asking about the capability for years, and Zuckerberg said, “We’ve finally heard you and we’re working on this and we will deliver something that meets the needs of the larger community.”

The so-called dislike button is expected to deliver something more nuanced than a button that could, effectively, function as a way to down-vote people’s opinions and posts. Rather, the goal is to provide a button that enables Facebook users to express empathy in life’s less-positive moments.

“Not every moment is a good moment,” Zuckerberg told the audience at the event. “If you share something that’s sad like a refugee crisis that touches you or a family member passes away, it may not be comfortable to like that post … I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it.”

Zuckerberg shared that implementing the idea is a surprisingly complicated process, but stated that the social networking giant has an idea of what shape the dislike button will take, and intends to begin testing it soon. Yeung points out that Facebook previously said that it was considering a dislike button when addressing the social network’s broad user base at a previous town hall session, but it seems that this time, the concept is closer to being implemented.

Yeung also notes that in 2012, a Facebook engineer answered a question on Quora about why the social network hadn’t yet added a dislike button, which many users have considered a logical counterpoint to the like button. The engineer wrote that while Facebook was aware that users liked the idea of a dislike button, rumors that the social network was avoiding adding such a button because of its potential impact on advertisers were “as far from the truth as I can image.” The engineer explained:

The decision has always been about the negative impact this dynamic would have on the user experience and almost always considered in the context of Disliking posts, not disliking pages or advertisements. And while I guess advertisers/businesses/celebrities wouldn’t want their posts to be disliked, it wouldn’t be particularly novel, since commenting provides a very active channel for communicating negative feedback.

While Zuckerberg addressed a wide range of other topics at the town hall session, the social network’s user base fixated on the announcement that Facebook is considering a button other than the like button, flooding Zuckerberg’s official Facebook page with almost 3,000 comments, largely on the topic of the dislike button, according to Reuters. Many are worried that a dislike button would lead to cyberbullying or negativity on the social network.

Though users have been asking for a dislike button, Zuckerberg stated that it might not actually be called the dislike button or be represented with a thumbs down icon. Users have already begun offering suggestions for forms of the button that they think will minimize misuse and harassment, like adding a sympathy button or enabling users to opt out of having the dislike button displayed on their posts.

Liz Stinson and Margaret Rhodes, writing for Wired, shared “5 ideas for a smarter Facebook ‘dislike button,'” since the thumbs-down, the literal foil to the icon for the like button, has probably been ruled out. Stinson and Rhodes queried designers, who suggested alternatives, like an “I Hear You” button represented by an ear icon, or an icon depicting hands holding a heart to convey empathy.

Another idea was an icon depicting a hand pointing upward, which would represent the gestural equivalent of typing a “^” into a group chat as a way of expressing agreement with a statement made above. Another designer suggested a neutral half moon icon, which would represent neutral recognition. Finally, others suggested that Facebook may simply give users what they want in the form of a thumbs down icon, though Facebook would need to find a way to guide users away from the negative sentiments already associated with the icon.

Regardless of what form the button ultimately takes, the fact that users are arguing over it is interesting. The debate over what shape the dislike button should take highlights the piecemeal fashion in which algorithms and emojis incompletely address the range of emotions and sentiments which users are presumably too busy (or too distracted) to put into words when they send a message to a friend or react to a post surfaced in their News Feed.

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