Is The Facebook Dislike Button An Error Of Judgement?

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In the aftermath of Facebook finally introducing a dislike button, all manner of users of the social media site and tech commentators have had their say on this innovation. It is certainly not a snap decision made by the social media giant, as some users have been pushing for the inclusion of a dislike button for many years. It seems that Mark Zuckerberg has finally bowed to public pressure.

Is The Facebook Dislike Button An Error Of Judgement?

Facebook Dislike Button – Online negativity

Zuckerberg has already had to field allegations that this would lead to yet more online negativity; not something that is in short supply! Zuckerberg suggested that the dislike button would be a way of supporting the viewpoints of friends, rather than a trolling mechanism. But considering the way that dislikes have worked on other prominent websites such as YouTube, it seems highly unlikely that this new mechanism will be utilized for positive means alone. Surely disliking something is negative by its very nature…

But aside from the prospect of yet more pointless online bile, there have been more serious issues raised in relation to the Facebook dislike option. Although Facebook has achieved probably the widest demographic of any social media platform, it must still be emphasized that this is primarily a website for young people. Indeed, there can be massive social pressure placed on high school and college students to set up a Facebook page, as parodied by an infamous South Park episode.

It is suggested in this context that the dislike button could then play an unfortunate role in potential cyber-bullying. Experts on schooling have already commented that the dislike button could be utilized for social exclusion and bullying, obviously already a huge area of concern with regard to young people. As the seemingly relentless cult of popularity in American high schools in particular shows no sign of abating, there is the suggestion that Facebook could have made a negative contribution to the overall trend.

Aside from the notion of young people being bullied, what can be asserted with some confidence is that by introducing a dislike button, Facebook is effectively formenting conflict. The overall tone of Facebook has always been one of relentless positivity, at least with regard to what the social media site encourages you to do directly. Of course, people are always going to go against this and comment in a negative way, but before introducing the dislike button it was simply impossible to register a negative view of something on Facebook without at least typing your opinion.

Viral consequences

A consequence of this, and likely an intended consequence at that, was that Facebook pages that generated the most attention simply became the most popular. By definition, even if an aspect of the popular culture, or some other particularly notable phenomena, irritated you to distraction, there was simply no viable way of indicating this via Facebook. Thus, although Facebook has been utilized for counter-cultural and activist-based activities, there has always been something decidedly mainstream and overground about the social media site. It is perhaps this element that has contributed above all else to the commercial success of Facebook.

Well, some people already suggesting that the dislike button will disrupt this successful formula. It seems almost inevitable that some users will implement the dislike button in order to provoke other people. Essentially by introducing this option, Facebook is promoting conflict, no matter what public statements are made by major figures associated with the corporation.

But whereas disliking has been a massive part of YouTube for quite some time, the relationship that people have with the video sharing site is fundamentally different to that of Facebook. Zuckerberg has developed and promoted Facebook as being a website of personal connection, and recent high-profile commercial campaigns instigated by the social media giant on television have very much emphasized this aspect of the Facebook experience.

So when someone dislikes one of your YouTube videos, this is not taken particularly personally. After all, you have absolutely no idea who did it, and the overwhelming likelihood is that you do not know them personally. This will not apply to Facebook in the case of many users, and will complicate the relationship that many people have with the social media platform.

Additionally, Facebook has, in a sense, always prided itself on a lack of context. Simply liking a post or page conveys little of meaning to the author of it, hence the relentlessly positive tone that is mocked by the makers of South Park. Enabling the disliking of posts will obviously change this relationship, yet people tend to be more interested in the context of why someone has disliked something; precisely what Facebook will never provide.

Thus, it is hardly surprisingly that many critical commentators have already suggested that Facebook may come to regret this decision. Tony Bradley of Forbes suggested that adding a dislike button would “pour gasoline on the fire of pointless Facebook drama”, while Matt Swider of TechRadar suggested that “Facebook is playing right into the hands of the snarkiest generation in history, motivating 20- and 30-year-old millennials to down vote posts without ever reading beyond the headline.” I could attempt some sneering millennial riposte to this statement, but I’m simply too old already…

Commercial challenge

But the biggest issue for Facebook with regard to the dislike button will undoubtedly be in relation to its commercial customers. In many ways, introducing a dislike button seems to be commercial suicide, as the social media platform is the first to have developed a significantly profitable business model. Upsetting the applecart seems to be rather unnecessary in this context.

However, although many advertisers may hate the introduction of a dislike button, it will give the opportunity for more innovative marketing to take place. Disrupters in marketing may view this as a positive challenge and opportunity, and it will certainly encourage commercial users of Facebook to think more carefully about the content of advertising and promotion, rather than merely attempting to generate attention and, in some cases, controversy.

Facebook may have poked a stick in a hornets nest by introducing a dislike button, but the long-term consequences will not be as negative as some have predicted.

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