I’ll admit up front that I’m not an avid Facebook-er, so perhaps some of the complaint I’m offering here is due to my naiveté about the medium. I’m also kind of old, and maybe this is the embryonic old codger in me coming out.
I imagine the Like button on Facebook has been around on the social network for nearly as long as Facebook has been on the web. A click of this button, according to Facebook help documents, “is an easy way to let someone know that you enjoy [content], without leaving a comment.” It also (perhaps unbeknownst to some users) advertises your tastes to the rest of your friends via your Timeline, which appears on their Facebook news feeds. Its use has been one way to measure popularity of content; each of us might, without being able to help ourselves, have paid attention to how many “likes” we’ve received for a certain post or update.
The problem I have with the Like button is how limited it is as a form of response but how tempting it is to use this simple button rather than provide a thoughtful or appropriate response to content on Facebook. For instance, I’ve seen numerous occasions when someone posts a heartfelt status update about a friend who died, the loss of their job, or some other sad, tragic event–and I see that a number of people have “liked” the update. What’s the “like” supposed to mean in this case? Obviously it’s not intended to suggest that the button-pusher is glad for the tragedy, but instead an attempt to offer sympathy to the author. Not to be too picky about things, but Facebook’s own documents suggest that this button is for content you “enjoy” (see above). I recognize that people can co-opt things like this for their own purpose, but it seems that even Facebook’s programmers see this button as offering limited responses.
Now, I know there’s a way to comment on status updates or posts, and it’s nearly as easy to click that button as it is the Like button; but then you have to type things in, and for some people that seems to be too much effort. And this isn’t necessarily laziness: The kinds of writing posted and the way we read on Facebook don’t encourage contemplative readings or expansive commentary. There’s so stinking much on my news feed to get through that I can’t possibly be asked to stop and think about what I’m reading or what I’m doing when I click that Like button.
What I’d like to see is a set of buttons or even a drop-down menu that offered additional choices of responses. You could choose a “Sympathy” response or a “I’ve been there!” response. Would it be so difficult to offer a “Sorry” button right by the Like button? The variety of emotional responses we’re capable of as human beings is a vital part of what makes us human; it seems only fair that we should be offered a chance to express that range of emotions (even if it’s a limited set) on the web site that seems to be so integral to our social interactions these days.
Of course, I suppose another way of looking at this is that Facebook’s programmers are hoping that people will actually write comments that express that range of emotions, and so they purposely limit responses via the Like button. They may hope that this limit will encourage people to interact in more sophisticated and elaborate ways via the comments. However, as so often happens with language, people tend to take the path of greatest efficiency in their communications, and today’s fast-paced world almost forces us to maximize efficiency in our communication. And a simple button seems to be the fastest, easiest way to respond, even if it’s limited.