Facebook’s ‘like’ button pulls a lot of weight. It’s the primary way to react to a post without actually putting your thoughts into words, and thus, the Atlantic observes, ‘likes’ wind up on posts about illness, injury and negative emotions as more of an indicator of ‘I saw this’ than ‘I am fond of this.’
There is a significant push for its binary opposite, a ‘dislike button,’ but it is understandable for Facebook to be hesitant to quantify negativity, its business being built as it is around advertising. (Interestingly, however, the company has an employee ‘karma’ rating internally). Following a business is even referred to as ‘liking,’ even though, if asked, many followers of businesses on Facebook would indicate more complex emotions. Complexity is what Facebook may get if it adds a ‘sympathize button,’ which Facebook engineer Dan Muriello discussed at the company’s annual Compassion Research Day, which is devoted to site features that minimize conflict. The button already exists – an engineer had put the code, which was accompanied with a dropdown list of feelings, together at a previous compassion-themed hackathon.
However, as the world is just getting used to ‘like’ features, which have diffused through many social media platforms like YouTube and Google+, Facebook has decided to hold back on releasing the feature for now. “It would be, ‘five people sympathize with this,’ instead of ‘five people ‘like’ this,’” said Muriello. “Which of course a lot of people were — and still are — very excited about. But we made a decision that it was not exactly the right time to launch that product. Yet.”
It’s understandable, as there could be unexpected implications. Sympathy is just one emotion out of an enormous range that users might start requesting if the button is implemented. One emotion may not be enough.