Facebook’s “dislike” button is going to be a disaster

Don’t do it.
Don’t do it.
Image: Reuters/Mike Theiler
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Mark Zuckerberg has finally given in. After years of users asking for it, Facebook announced on Sep. 15 it will be testing unspecified alternatives to the “like button,” including potentially a “dislike button.” But while it’s true not every post on the social-media site always seems deserving of a virtual thumbs up, do we really want to make it easier to spread negativity online?

Indeed, a “dislike button” seems to be the last thing we need. From a parenting perspective, there are concerns that the button could become a device for cyber-bullying. As New York City public school social worker Joseph Klein told Quartz: “The dislike button is going to become yet another tool for exclusion and bullying—something that is already a huge concern with regard to youth.” 

But bullying is not the only concern here. We are living in the era of the online relationship. Rather than communicating face-to-face, we have become a society separated by a million glowing screens. Social media can be a great tool and way to connect across geographic divides.

We know that interacting with others online is not always easy. When communicating exclusively in text, there is bound to be misunderstanding and conflict. A dislike button is likely to increase these feelings, with the added bonus of passive aggression. Jennifer Guinyard, a practicing social worker, tells Quartz that any dislike button could actually end up being dangerous for both online and “real-life” relationships. “People are going to push that button just to provoke others,” she predicted. “By implementing the dislike button, Facebook is promoting conflict.“

Not to mention, what does clicking “dislike” on a post even mean? Are you saying you don’t like a post? Are you clicking in solidarity with a negative experience relayed by the author? Or are you merely attempting to casually incite controversy? This last option is potentially the most worrying.

Guinyard, like Klein, believes making it this easy for users to offer negative feedback could create an unpleasant ripple effect. Currently, users “scroll through someone’s feed and ignore anything that is of no interest to you,” she explained. But a dislike button potentially makes criticism much more instant and personal. “It makes people a target for negative energy,” she said. 

The more fragile or unimportant the relationship, the less incentive individuals have to be nice to one another. This is part of the reason more anonymous social media sites like Twitter have become breeding grounds for cruelty. It would be a shame if Facebook drifted further down that path. “There are already people on social who get a high off of provoking other people. This dislike button gives these exact people more ammunition,” Guinyard noted.

When Facebook first implemented the “like” button, some users (myself included) noticed a decline in comments on their posts. Why engage in constructive critical discussion when you can merely “like”? Similarly, a dislike button could further decrease debate, becoming a magnet for internet trolls and social media malcontents eager for any opportunity to offend, insult or deflate self-esteem.

Whether we like it or not, many people still use Facebook as a means for validation. When users get comments or likes on their posts, they feel good about themselves. As Guinyard notes: “Facebook fosters co-dependency and the need to be validated by others.” This isn’t exactly an ideal situation, but the alternative definitely seems worse.

Facebook, we dislike your “dislike” button. Many users of your product are constantly looking to engage in a more positive online environment. Please think carefully before you create a tool that may add fuel to an already raging fire.