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“People have asked about the dislike button for many years,” announced Mark Zuckerberg at an informal Facebook Q&A earlier this month. “Today is a special day, because I can say we’re working on it and shipping it.” And, of course, the internet has had something to say about it.

Regardless of topic, public opinion is polarised online; comment threads are filled almost exclusively with the thoughts of those who feel strongly enough – either way – to post. Popular Science even banned its comment section to quell ‘digital wildfires’ that could potentially harm scientific progression. Studies show that online opinion is contagious, and if a like is about signalling approval, would a dislike button be anything more than a shout-out to haters all across the world?

Zuckerberg’s comment may have been taken a little out of context. This new button is more about empathy than it is about providing a proverbial thumbs down to sit alongside the like’s thumbs up. “If you’re sharing something that’s sad, whether it’s something in current events like the refugee crisis that touches you or if a family member passed away, then it might not feel comfortable to Like that post,” says Zuckerberg. We could all use a little more empathy in the world, right?

“The like button has turned into a very important function,” says Dr. Larry Rosen, who specialises in the psychology of technology. “It’s an easy way to do two things; to signal to people that you read their material; to be visible to everyone else.” But it’s also reductive. The mass uptake of emojis – which 72% of 16- to 25-year-olds prefer to use in order to communicate how they feel – can be attributed to a desire to better articulate emotion in a digital landscape. Why should our only response to online content be a like? “I think it’s bizarre that the only option is to put thumbs up,” says Rosen.

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Lore Oxford is Canvas8's deputy editor. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not busy analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs.


16 Sep 15

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