Why Is There No Dislike Button On Facebook
The first question posed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a business Q&A was whether he would ever consider introducing a “dislike” button. He didn’t say anything. Instead, he began his answer with, “We’re thinking about it.”
Let me try to translate what Zuckerberg meant: “Why yes, tech reporters and news anchors of the globe, please flood the airwaves and Internet with 11 million fluffy ‘what-if’ articles about my business on this slow news day in December.” In other words, it was a clever public relations response. Was it, however, true? Is Facebook really considering introducing a dislike button?
The simple answer is “no,” for reasons that are deeply embedded in the company’s DNA—and that Zuckerberg would be reluctant to explain openly. But, coming from arguably the most powerful guy in online media today, Zuckerberg’s response is unexpectedly revealing—and worrisome. It also helps to understand why Facebook is more favorable to baby pictures, viral hoaxes, and fake joy than it is to serious debate of news and ideas.
Zuckerberg’s answer is definitely worth seeing if you want to witness a strong billionaire try to explain how something obviously in his own company’s economic interest is really in the interest of humanity at large.
The main points are as follows:
Some individuals have requested a hate button in order to express, “That item isn’t good.” And it is not something we believe is beneficial for the planet. As a result, we will not construct it.
That is, in fact, a rather obvious response—albeit one that is somewhat deceptive, as I will demonstrate. But, first and foremost, what is Facebook planning to create, if not a dislike button for those who hate things? Zuckerberg didn’t say anything specific, but he did leave some hints.
According to Zuckerberg, when individuals post “sad times in their life” or “difficult cultural or societal topics” on Facebook, others may not necessarily feel comfortable clicking “like.” To address this, he went on to say that the business has been looking at methods for users to quickly express emotions such as surprise, laughing, or empathy. This is consistent with previous allegations that Facebook has experimented with a “sympathize” button that might display in lieu of the “like” button for sad, angry, or depressing postings. However, Zuckerberg added at the conclusion of his answer, “we don’t have anything coming soon.” That makes sense: Facebook’s algorithms are now sophisticated enough to distinguish between happy and sad posts most of the time, but not always. (It’s also totally OK in most instances to click the like button on a friend’s post when your true purpose is compassion.)
What is most intriguing about Zuckerberg’s remarks is not the content of his response, but the manner in which he defended it.
What he didn’t mention was: A Facebook “dislike” button would discourage individuals from publishing, like, and sharing as freely as they would otherwise. More behavior is nearly always better for a business that trades in data about user activity. Its algorithms are designed to maximize for “engagement,” which includes postings, likes, clicks, shares, and comments. Facebook does not optimize for the following metrics: honesty, exchange of ideas, critical thinking, or objective truth.
Seeing dislikes on other people’s postings may make you reconsider blindly like them yourself. Seeing dislikes on your own postings may cause you to reconsider what you’re publishing. In any case, it is a barrier to interaction and, as such, a hindrance to Facebook’s development.
And image how the businesses that pay Facebook’s expenses would react if they saw dozens, hundreds, or tens of thousands of dislikes on their own postings. On his next earnings call with investors, Zuckerberg will have a lot to answer for.
All of these are valid economic reasons for Facebook to continue ignoring demands for a dislike button, but there may be workarounds for each. (For example, the hate option might be blocked on postings by brands, and individuals could deactivate it on especially sensitive personal posts.)
However, these are not the reasons stated by Zuckerberg in his Q&A. Rather than discussing why the dislike button would be bad for Facebook, he argued it would be terrible for society as a whole. He actually said that allowing Facebook users to express their displeasure with the site’s content is “not something we believe is beneficial for the world.” Later, he added that if Facebook ever adds buttons for emotions other than like, it would “need to figure out the proper way to do it so [it] ends up being a force for good and not a force for evil.” I’m looking forward to the A/B testing on that one.
One way to look at this is that Zuckerberg is just lying to us. He realizes that this is actually about Facebook’s financial interests, but he understands it would sound unseemly, so instead he feeds us platitudes about what’s good for the world. If so, that’s fine: no one expects a CEO to be completely honest about his company’s motives.
The more concerning scenario is that Zuckerberg, on some level, believes what he is saying. This would suggest one of two possibilities: One theory is that he has grown so enamored with his company’s mission—to “make the world more open and connected”—that any impediment to its ongoing development is detrimental to mankind. This kind of misalignment of one’s self-interest with the interests of everyone else may lead to grandiosity and the belief that the goals justify the methods. It’s very common in Silicon Valley.
The second option is more ordinary, but no less concerning. It’s because Zuckerberg fails to see the essential functions of dispute and disagreement in a free society—that he thinks we’d all be better off if we couldn’t express our unpleasant feelings. “If you don’t have anything pleasant to say, don’t say anything at all,” is a commendably mature stance—for a first-grader. It’s quite the contrary in a guy who has become arguably the most dominant force in media.
This is significant because Facebook has surpassed Google as the leading source of traffic to news and opinion websites worldwide. And because its algorithms have a greater influence on what people view than any editor on the world. And the like button now affects not just how news is distributed, but also how it is created and presented. (No media company is unaware that headlines that encourage Facebook sharing are likely to benefit its financial line.) It’s one of the reasons why, while Twitter was blazing with discussions about racism, the use of force, police militarization, and protestors’ rights in a democracy, Facebook was drowning with ice bucket challenges.