It’s been a few weeks since social media juggernaut, Facebook, launched the new ‘reactions’ feature on their site, allowing users a broader scope in which to express their emotions online. The change comes seven years after the introduction of the original ‘like’ button, which has since become a primary tool of interaction on the social media platform. In the face of these recent changes, the original ‘like’ button remains intact, but has merely been expanded to enable for more post-specific engagement.
For years in the lead up to this change, Facebookers had come to realise the limitations of the like button and began petitioning for a ‘dislike’ or ‘thumbs down’ feature to counter the onslaught of users forever ‘liking’ stuff. Quite early on in the piece, even the most like-hungry users discovered that not exactly all posts, comments and photos were actually ‘likeable’. For these social media savants, as with many of the less vocal users, it didn’t take much scrolling down a news feed to discern that a tool as subjective as the like button carried with it, a multitude of issues.
Since the humble beginnings of the original like button, users had been faced with one key dilemma and overarching query: “To like or not to like”. Take, for example, the case of a Facebook post made by a friend regarding the passing of their grandmother, a hospital emergency or other life crisis. In these situations, would it be impolite to ‘like’ the post? And if the user did, it would be hoped that it would be implied to the person on the receiving end of this interaction that they didn’t exactly ‘like’ the fact their Facebook friend lost their dear grandma.
It was in these instances where things had the potential to get messy. At the crux of it, the user simply wanted to express their support, but may have felt uncomfortable doing so in a more ‘personal’ manner. And with Facebook being a largely impersonal medium, one wouldn’t dare send their friend a private message to pass on their condolences, or, god* forbid, write an actual sympathy card (yes, apparently those things still exist). So it would be in these predicaments, that the user would be faced with a bit of a virtual world conundrum.
While Zuckerberg and Co. took their time, they finally did come to the party and grant the wishes of the petitioners, albeit partially, by introducing the new emoji-based features. The new buttons have broadened the horizon, but what remains to be seen is whether they’ll actually resolve the problems inherent in communicating online.
After seven long years of being confined to the lonesome ‘like’ feature, it seems users came to use the tool more intuitively, imposing their own meanings onto the tool based on the context in which the like is handed out or received. It can be argued that the whole nature of ‘liking’ something developed to symbolise, more generally, one’s support of the user behind the post or the sentiment expressed within it. In most cases, users would just ‘know’ that no offence was intended in liking a post about anything ranging from a personal crisis to an international tragedy.
So, with all this in mind, are the new reactions already redundant? With all the flaws in communication manifested most strongly in the digital world, it appears that even the most incompetent users have acquired a means to ‘adequately’ express their emotions through the like feature alone. While some of these outspoken petitioners demanded for a tool to expand upon the like feature, amongst all the shouting, it was possibly forgotten that the entire definition of ‘liking’ something had already been revolutionised thanks to Facebook.
Just as Facebook had reinvented the definition of ‘friend’ to include something as vague as an unknown, middle aged man from Estonia who happens to send a friend request, the meaning of ‘like’ had also been altered. Now, we live in a social media world where our Facebook friends are not necessarily ‘friends’, at least in the traditional sense of the word, and where ‘liking’ no longer involves actually possessing a fondness for something.
In the meantime, it seems, regardless of whether Zuckerberg has succeeded in appeasing the Facebook masses with the new tool, the reactions feature will remain in place. But what is unclear is whether the tools will ever really go far in improving the online interaction some users mistakenly believed had been ‘damaged’ by the revolutionary like button.