Liking the Idea of a Dislike Button?

Many of us are still haunted by the Facebook pages we liked years back, whose posts seem to, just now, be rearing their ugly heads on our feeds.  Though these are an agitating memory from my middle school days, this marketing tactic worked because there is one page that always comes to mind.  It called for the introduction of a “dislike” button to juxtapose the “like” button available for posts we make on the site.  Much time has passed and, it seems, our grassroots, Facebook page campaign is finally paying off, though not in the way you would expect.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing the development of a dislike button | 9/15/2015

Facebook’s Newest Feature and the Intentions Behind It

Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the company is preparing to launch testing of a “dislike” button.  According to Zuckerberg, “What people really want is to be able to express empathy.”  Often times, people use Facebook to share troubling news that one normally does not feel comfortable “liking”, such as the passing of a loved one.  This new feature will allow users to provide the person with acknowledgement that they have viewed the post and offer support.  As it often is with social media and in general, we want our voices heard.  We share things that are not meant to be “likeable” but would still appreciate the validation that we are being recognized.

Facebook is not revolutionary with the “dislike” concept, though unique in its own way.  For example, YouTube offers a thumbs up AND thumbs down option on its videos, allowing viewers to express their opinions on the quality of the video further in comment sections.  However, this is not Facebook’s intention.  Zuckerberg went on to explain that he would not like this feature to equate to a “down vote,” but rather to an expression of sadness or “solidarity” with those sharing distressing news.  It is hard to say how it will be taken without launching to the general public and it’s understandable to question the practicality of this idea.  Mr. Zuckerberg: if you don’t want the button to have a negative connotation, don’t call it the “dislike” button.  Here’s what I think will happen.

Businesses vs. The Dislike Button

Aside from your standard trolling and cyber bulling repercussions, I could not help but wonder how a “dislike” button would be used in different contexts.  For example, if I am running the Facebook page for Taco Bell and utilize this tool to announce a new Peanut Butter Burrito product we plan to launch, people will most likely hit “dislike”.  I can only assume that by hitting “dislike” they do not mean to say they are sad for me because I thought of the idea or to provide solidarity as I try to recover.  How can companies and organizations that regularly use Facebook for press releases turn this in their favor?  For one, this may change the face of marketing research.  By allowing customers to quickly express their disagreement with a choice of the organization, it is much easier for a marketing representative to look at the running number of likes and dislikes a post may receive, as opposed to sifting through the comments section for naysayers.  Why would a company spend money and time on focus groups and surveys if they can get this information from Facebook for free and now more immediately than ever?

On the other hand, this could be absolutely fatal for some brands.  It may be impossible for a company to get off the ground if every post they make gets significantly more down-votes than they can handle.  They lose the “coolness” of their brand and they lose altogether.  The economist brain within you may be saying that this merely shrinks the market to what consumers actually want.  I’d like to challenge that by saying it gives no one room to grow.  Putting things on social media is a cheap, quick, easy way for a business to communicate to its audience.  If all of their content is “disliked” too soon, people will not give them more opportunities to share ideas that may be better because of experience.

Facebook and the Modern Social Media World

This social media site has gone through a lot.  From 2004 to present day, not only have features changed, but sentiment has changed.  In its heyday, Facebook was a conscious, constant part of the lives of, as it felt, everyone in America and many other places around the world.  We were always on Facebook and we knew it.  If you ask the current 20-something year old, it’s not uncommon for them not to consider themselves regular Facebook users, preferring Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, what-have-you (and for the extra-hipster, no social media at all).  We all want to be unique and Facebook, to many, has lost its “cool factor.”  However, according to June 2015 statistics, Facebook fell it at 1.49 billion active users, while Twitter was only at 316 million.  A new question: has Facebook become such a norm that we do not even realize the impact it has on us?

Bottom line: Facebook is a connector.  Though I go to other social media sites to be entertained, I look to Facebook for the real social outlet.  I check and see if I have upcoming events, I message friends, I browse pictures that people post from their weekends.  And though it’s easy to say that Facebook isn’t to me what it once was and move on, it’s much more than that.  Facebook has simply become a way of life.  Now you may be asking yourself what this has to do with the dislike button.  I promise that I have a point.  Bear with me.

Facebook has changed everything about our lives.  Like it or not, it’s invention was a pivotal moment in history.  In 2010, a film entitled The Social Network explored this moment.  In a climatic scene with Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster and contributor to the explosion of Facebook (played by Justin Timberlake), this is summarized by saying, “We lived on farms, and then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the Internet.”  The introduction of a “dislike” button, though seemingly trivial, could be the final step to achieving this.  We already put everything about our lives online.  For some, this is every thought, every grocery store interaction, every opinion about the political debates, and everything in between.  The “dislike” button will, in my opinion, seal the deal.

This button is a long-overdue pièce de résistance in our grand migration online.  Though a bit late, I’d say it’s an ingenious addition to their business scheme.  Now that we can express negative feelings, what else is there to share?  What else is there to put online?

To be candid with you, I am always immediately the first person to defend technology.  When people whine and wail about how technology is destroying the human interaction, I am never afraid to say that isn’t true.  I stand by that here.  I do not say this is a bad thing.  Humans have always had trouble with interactions.  The terrible atrocities of the history of the world didn’t result from people properly talking to each other.  I would argue that many began with a lack there of.  Though its easy to look at this situation and say that the dislike button will be another reason to hate technology, I challenge you to think of it differently: not as a end to civilization, but as a new beginning.  The idea of Facebook as a company was to put life online and I strongly believe that by adding this “dislike” button, they have met the goal.  Finally, everything about social media will be absolutely immediate.

I don’t think I, in 2006, understood the gravity of a “dislike” button.  I don’t think, in 2015, I understand it now.

Maura Barker