When your Facebook “like” is not a like

“Like” like you mean it.
“Like” like you mean it.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Facebook’s not convinced you always mean it when you hit “like.”

On a continual quest to make news feeds more relevant to users, Facebook has tapped hundreds of people in the US to vet shared stories in a special version of the social network, hoping to extract insights to complement its news feed algorithm, according to Medium’s Steven Levy.

One of the early findings is that people often impulsively hit “like” on stories posted by close friends and relatives—not necessarily because they agree with the content, but because they want to further a connection with the poster. Subsequently, Facebook is considering lowering the ranking of those stories in the news feed—but not to the point where friends can’t see them.

It’s hard to understand user intent when there’s only one button to express an opinion (users, of course, also have the option to leave replies on posts). Hitting the “like” button might be considered inappropriate when a person posts a news story about a tragedy. That’s why one Facebook engineer built a “sympathize” button during one of the company’s hackathons. The button, which was first reported in 2013 and never implemented on the social network, was designed to replace “like” when a post expressed negative emotions. The topic of new buttons came up more recently as well. In December, CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company is thinking of adding a “dislike” button. However, he said such a button would be called something else to avoid shaming or expressing hatred toward posters.

It’s unclear if such a button will ever see the light of day. But if relevance is important to the social network, Facebook will need to devise new ways for users to better convey their emotions.