Why Facebook says a 'dislike' button will make the site more compassionate

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday that the company is working on a "dislike" button. The "dislike" button would allow Facebook users to more easily sympathize with sad posts, or express their disagreement with others.

Eric Risberg/AP/File
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company is working on a "dislike" button. Here, Mr. Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at the company's F8 Developer Conference in San Francisco on March 25, 2015.

There are lots of scenarios where Facebook’s “like” button just doesn’t cut it.

Maybe you want to show sympathy when a friend posts that they had a bad day, without seeming to take pleasure in their misery. Or maybe you just want to voice your disagreement with something someone posts, without having to type out a full rebuttal.

Facebook users have asked for a “dislike” button for years, and on Tuesday chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg announced that the feature is coming soon.

“Probably hundreds of people have asked about this, and today ... I actually get to say we are working on it, and are very close to shipping a test of it,” Mr. Zuckerberg said during a company town-hall meeting in Menlo Park, Calif. The feature would allow people to more easily express anger, sadness, or interest in a topic, in addition to the “like” button currently used to show support for a post.

“It's surprisingly complicated to make,” Zuckerberg said, “But we have an idea that we think we're getting ready to test soon, and depending on how that goes, we'll roll it out more broadly.”

Some of that complexity comes from the fact that Facebook doesn’t want to turn “likes” and “dislikes” into a ranking system. Other Internet forums such as Reddit and Voat use a rough “thumbs up” and ”thumbs down” system to vote on posts, which affects how visible those posts are to others users. Facebook wants to allow users to “dislike” posts, without voting those posts down into oblivion.

A “dislike” button would increase Facebook’s emotional breadth by allowing users to more easily express sympathy or sadness to one another. It could also allow Facebook to understand its users better. The company’s $240 billion value comes from the enormous mound of user data it holds, points out Carl Miller, Research Director of the UK-based Centre for the Analysis of Social Media. And a richer understanding of how users interact with and relate to one another would be worth even more to advertisers. For example, a charity or a political campaign could advertise to those who expressed, by way of the “dislike” button, sadness about a particular social ill.

The “dislike” button would probably also affect how your News Feed is curated. Right now Facebook uses material you’ve “liked” in the past to try to predict what kinds of stories you’ll find especially interesting, and puts those front-and-center on your feed. The “dislike” button could ensure that content that’s important or meaningful, but not necessarily happy, doesn’t get filtered out without your having seen it.

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