Facebook's big conundrum: How to express reactions other than 'like'

Instead of a 'dislike' button, Facebook is launching a set of six emoji to help you react appropriately to less-than-happy news. Facebook is testing love, laughter, excitement, sadness, shock, and anger emoji in Ireland and Spain.

Facebook/AP
Facebook is rolling out a set of emoji to add some emotional depth to the "Like" button. Here, screenshots of an iPhone 6 show how someone might react to news of a friend's dog being taken to the vet.

Back in September, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was working on a feature that would allow users to better express sympathy on the site. After all, when a friend shares that their pet died, clicking “like” probably isn’t the best move.

“People have asked about the ‘dislike’ button for many years," Mr. Zuckerberg said at a town hall meeting. "We are working on it, and are very close to shipping a test of it.”

Soon after, the company clarified that it wasn’t focused on a “click to disagree” button, but rather a way for users to better acknowledge and empathize with events or stories that they thought were important.

This week, Facebook announced that it’s testing out “Reactions,” a set of six emoji that add some emotional depth to the otherwise staid “Like” button. You can pair the traditional thumbs-up with a heart, or with a face that’s laughing, excited, shocked, sad, or angry.

That way if a friend posts a story about, say, the Syrian refugee crisis, and you find it moving and important, you could respond with a shocked or sad face – avoiding the reductive “like” reaction that implies you might think the displacement of millions of people is neat.

This system avoids a binary thumbs-up/thumbs-down system, Facebook says, which might tempt users to simply “dislike” content they happen to disagree with in an effort to make it less visible on the social network.

“We studied which comments and reactions are most commonly and universally expressed across Facebook, then worked to design an experience around them that was elegant and fun,” Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox says in a post on Thursday.

The emoji are being tested in Ireland and Spain before being rolled out to users in other countries. Ireland has a mostly self-contained user base, meaning that Irish Facebook users are friends mostly with other Irish users. Spain is a test to see how well the emoji work for non-English speaking users. Depending on how Irish and Spanish users react to the system, Facebook may tweak the emoji before enabling them for all users.

Facebook has been working on, or at least considering, a more nuanced emotional system than the “Like” button since at least 2013, when the company filed a patent for an emoji set. Once the “Reactions” emoji roll out for all users, you’ll be able to react to less-than-ideal news appropriately, even if you don’t have time to type out a heartfelt response.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.