Naturally, the news went viral—Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the largest social networking site in the world, announced during a live Q&A on September 15 that Facebook was creating a “dislike” button in response to demand by users to express alternatives to the standard “like.”
Facebook users have been asking for a “dislike” button for years. It’s not always for negative reasons—a friend shares a “having a bad day” status, and you may want to show your support by disliking the fact that they’re feeling down. You obviously don’t want to “like” that a friend’s dog died, but maybe you don’t have time to leave a longer “sorry for your loss” comment.
As the communications director for the American Humanist Association, I was deeply concerned by the idea of a “dislike” button. The American Humanist Association’s Facebook page is nearing half a million followers—over the years, we’ve cultivated a positive feed filled with breaking news, information about our latest legal cases or lobbying efforts, and occasional posts that poke fun at religious belief. The majority of our followers are people who either identify as humanists, atheists, or secular, or support progressive humanist causes even if they identify with a traditional religious tradition.
But no matter what you post, trolls are always hiding under the bridge. Despite overwhelming support from hundreds of students actively participating in our Don’t Say the Pledge Campaign at public schools, for example, Facebook users have piled on some of those students, saying that not standing for the flag—even if you disagree with the words “under God”—is disrespectful. Most recently, after the American Humanist Association shared news about challenging graduation prayers at a public school, one Facebook follower commented:
Give it up—there are people who believe in Jesus and they are entitled to their “thing.” If you manage to stop “official” graduation prayers or any other prayers in the schools, the students will do it anyway. Don’t even think that you will ever win this battle.
We are certainly not immune to or unable to consider criticism, but imagine religious right groups organizing a campaign to regularly “dislike” our Facebook posts. Young people should be concerned too—in an era of cyberbullying, “disliking” an individual’s Facebook posts could lead to serious consequences. Imagine being a teenager posting a flattering selfie to boost your self-confidence, only to see dozens of “dislikes”? In other words, a “dislike” button would make it much easier for the “haters” to win.
But there’s no need to panic. Looking beyond the headlines, Zuckerberg made it very clear that an actual “dislike” button isn’t happening, and said so back in December during another Q&A session:
Some people have asked for a dislike button because they want to say, “That thing isn’t good.” And that’s not something that we think is good for the world. So we’re not going to build that.
But they are currently testing out something to address the issue:
What they really want is an ability to express empathy. If you’re expressing something sad…it may not feel comfortable to “like” that post, but your friends and people want to be able to express that they understand.
An “empathy” button is a great idea, and Facebook users have already submitted some ideas: an “I hear you” button that looks like an ear, a hand pointing up to convey “I’m with this statement,” and, my personal favorite, a “hug” button—simple, sweet, sincere.
We should applaud Zuckerberg for hearing the concerns of Facebook users and keeping the online environment more positive and less toxic. Besides, if there’s anything far more important we should be asking Facebook to do, it’s figuring out how I can get my friends to stop inviting me to play Candy Crush.