No Haters Allowed: Why A Dislike Button Is Not Coming To Facebook

The Facebook Like button turned a year old last week and it has got people thinking about the nature of Facebook’s open social graph. Nothing like an anniversary to make you stop and assess your relationship, right?

Perusing through the comments on Facebook’s announcement, two questions are prominent: a) it seems like the Like button has been around for more than a year and b) where is the “Dislike” button?

The Dislike button is probably not going to come any time soon, if ever. Facebook reiterated the point in an email that there are no plans for one. The opportunities for abuse are too great. There are a lot of different ways that a Dislike could be interpreted. Say somebody posts a story about animal abuse to their profile to share their outrage. Naturally, that would be a case to “dislike” the article. Nobody likes to see bags of kittens being drowned.

Potential Powder Keg

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There has been concern with Facebook and other social networks about bullies that torture colleagues and classmates It seems every couple of months there is a sad or bizarre story about somebody using Facebook to cause other real emotional harm. It is not a far jump to see a Dislike button being used for harassment and discrimination. For instance, a friend of mine announced on Facebook not long ago that she had entered into a civil union with her long-time partner. That, like any other marriage, should be a happy, joyful occasion. It should not be an opportunity for hate-mongers and homophobes to use a Dislike button to harass someone.

In the realm of social engagement, a game that Facebook has more or less turned mainstream and created the rules, a Dislike button is a powder keg with significant potential to blow up and disrupt its carefully crafted open graph. Yes, a Dislike button would provide Facebook with more of its lifeblood – data – but the inevitable abuse of the system would be detrimental to the ecosystem.

“I suspect that it appeals to some people in a humorous way. But, it can be used … unkindly” said Dr. Pamela Rutledge of the Media Psychology Research Center. “It is important from a company point of view to not support negative emotions.”

Dr. Rutledge, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., writes extensively on the psychology and cross section of media and technology on the center’s Media Psychology Blog and has a deep background in communications.

“It is important to decide who gets to make the choice of what people use,” Dr. Rutledge said. “At what point are we imposing our values on others? How do we choose the tools that walk the line of value? I think it is good for Facebook to not institute a Dislike button.”

Outside of the normal user, there is another segment of the population that could be harmed by a Dislike button – corporate citizens.

With the advent of Facebook Pages, companies now have a relatively cheap and easy way to engage their customers. It is in the best interest of Facebook to keep companies and brands content on the its network, increase the volume of companies using the platform and the engagement around them. Companies would probably not take kindly to a Dislike button because it would give people the potential to castigate a company en masse with a simple click of a button. That would be far more damaging than a few motivated users that create a page saying “Company XYZ sucks because” etc.

As Facebook develops its Golden Goose, a Dislike button has the potential to have a disproportionate negative effect on its bottom line.

Where Have You Been All My Life?

With the other theme – why does it seem like the Like button has been around so much longer than a year?

The Like button has been an evolution. Before the Like button there was the “share” button that would basically send a link to Facebook without any context as to why this person is sharing something in their news feed. In terms of the sociology of Web use, sharing a link without context assumes tacit approval of the contents of said link.

So, if you were sharing the link of drowning kittens because you were outraged by it or you (for some reason) agreed with it, there was no way to tell. Some of the third-party share buttons allowed for contextual input but they were not as ubiquitous as the Like button has become. Then, last July Facebook updated the Like button to be able to add context to what you are linking. The result? More interaction, more engagement and yes, more Like buttons.

As the Like button has evolved, the share button has declined. However, the share button in its various permutations is still around on the Web; it is the answer to the question, “Why does it seem like the Like button has been around longer than a year?” The ability to share something to Facebook from outside the platform has been around for quite some time. You were just not been able to “like” it.

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