25 Feb 2016

What's not to like with FB's new emotions?

5:56 pm on 25 February 2016

"I wish there was a dislike button" used to be a relatively common comment on Facebook.

After all, hitting "like" on your old school friend's status saying her great aunt-twice-removed has died hardly seems like an appropriate reaction.

Well, now Facebook has unveiled new "reactions". Hold your thumb down, or hover over, the "like" button, and now you can love, laugh, say 'wow!' or be sad or angry about that same status.

It's not a "dislike" button, Facebook is quick to stress. And it has done its testing.

"We also looked at how people are already commenting on posts and the top stickers and emoticons as signals for the types of reactions people are already using to determine which reactions to offer."

While Facebook will be collecting the data of how people use the reactions - and thus, how better it can aim advertising at them - it is also easy to see that the buttons are going to make life online even more confusing.

If text is occasionally difficult to dissect, animated love hearts can mean anything. (Ask Twitter, which was widely scorned when it changed its "favourite" button to a "like".)

"Buried beneath each seemingly simplistic choice is a wide range of nuanced feels. Do you "Love" something or are you sending "Love" somebody's way," asks Mashable's Lance Ulanoff. Do you mean that you really, really like that article your friend shared, even though she's the 18th person to put it into your news feed, or are you expressing solidarity with the content?

If you hit the sad face, are you expressing empathy, or passive-aggressively reporting that seeing that adorable dog being rescued by firefighters was enough to send you to the tissue box? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is quick to assure the move is more about expressing empathy, and making it "comfortable to share a wider range of emotions".

"Love is the most popular reaction so far, which feels about right to me," Mr Zuckerberg said.

"Yay" was removed after the initial testing because people didn't really understand what it meant, but people appeared to be more clear about love.

"'Love' is patient, kind and unironic," writes Caitlin Dewey in The Independent. "It is an unbridled show of positivity. In instances of tragedy, one imagines, the "love" button will also double as a signal of empathy and support. But in general, expect this to be the high-pitched "omg, love it" of reaction emoji."

The angry reaction might be the most divisive - it's aggressive eyebrows signalling fury. If your mother has reacted to your Facebook status in this way, you might be in trouble. Or that politically-minded friend could be very annoyed at the way you've expressed your views. It's a minefield.

Never fear, though. Hover over the little cluster of icons on a post, and you can see which of your friends is expressing which emotion, which may help guide you. And don't forget, you can "love" RNZ on Facebook too.