Social media giant Facebook recently unveiled a shiny new toy for its users to enjoy; reactions. Now, as well as ‘liking’ a post, you are able to express a range of emotions (anger, sadness, amusement, surprise and love) with one easy click. The question is, why?
One argument that has been made is that some people feel uncomfortable ‘liking’ certain things that people post online. This makes sense; it does seem a little morbid and insensitive to like a post in which someone has just announced the death of a family member, especially given the obnoxiousness of Facebook’s thumbs up symbol which appears when you use the like function. But is reacting with a heart emoticon really any more loving or sensitive? It doesn’t take any extra effort and you’ll still be lost amongst the crowd of other people ‘reacting’ in their own way. Besides, there is already a natural solution to the problem of not wanting to like a post, it’s called commenting. If you’re actually close enough to someone to warrant sending them some sort of emotional support over the internet, then surely you’re capable of actually writing them a message to express said support. Have we really got so little free time in our busy lives that we can’t take a moment to console each other using anything more than a generic, computerised face characterised by a single, blank emotion? Also, the love emoticon is uncomfortably close to the laughing one, and that’s not a mistake I would want to risk when responding to the news that my friend’s favourite pet has just been run over.
A far more pragmatic defence of the introduction of these new, easy to use means of expressing caricatured emotions is that it allows companies which use Facebook as a platform, whether it be a newspaper, a film studio, a political party or a high street fashion brand, to quickly and more precisely gauge the reaction of the general public to whatever announcement they choose to make online. Sadly, I can’t seem to find a hole in this argument, given that it is clearly unrealistic for such a company to trawl through the comments to try and work out what people are thinking, and it is hard to know exactly what someone’s opinion is from a ‘like’. And yet, is this really a good reason to sway from the simple and elegant ‘like, comment, share’ system? Personally I struggle to see the demand for social media’s latest gimmick, but then I’m also someone who prefers to communicate with words rather than computer generated facial expressions, so maybe I’m just behind the times.