Facebook’s “Dislike” Button

In the last week, there has been a lot of talk about Mark Zuckerberg creating a new button to allow users to express “dislike.” This request has been going on for several years as users would like to show empathy for a FB friend who may be going thru something that is negative in their lives. As a clinician, my natural assumption, given the prevalence of cyberbullying, is that it could turn into another weapon in the cyber arsenal of those who wish to bully a peer.  Because we live in a world where we look for validation – we want to know that we are liked and that people are interested in what we have to say. A dislike button could add fuel to the fire and further the need for digital validation. After talking with my in-house expert, my daughter, who is a high school senior about this, her comment was, “That’s a horrible idea. All it will do is create more hate!”   As I contemplate this, I agree with her. From her perspective, a “Dislike” button will just allow peers to give a negative comment to each other and continue the issue of on-line bullying. Imagine a teen posting a new relationship status and a group of “friends” click on “Dislike” or posting a college acceptance letter, a prom photo, new pet and having a group of negative responses. This could have social and emotional consequences for youth. I then decided to challenge her. “How do you “like” a friend’s post that mentions that their grandmother died?” Her response was that she would post an emoticon showing a sad face or tears. Interesting.

So, let’s think about the flip side, why would Facebook create a button that could potentially be used for negative purposes? You could argue that having friends commiserate and offer support by “disliking” a post can feel therapeutic in the same way that venting about a tough day over a latte or a walk with a friend. And for those doing the “disliking”, it is known that expressing, rather than avoiding, negative emotions can prove helpful to well-being.  Also, if a teen posts an inappropriate comment and receives 89 “dislikes,” would this be feedback to the teen to recognize that the post was negative and allow the teen to edit or delete the post and learn from the experience? Interpretation of words without facial expressions, voice tone and other non verbal cues is difficult in this media world. This could allow for a discussion about sarcasm and “meaning what you say and saying what you mean.” Especially when it is posted for the world to see.

So where does that leave us? As with most apps and platforms, it’s how we use it and teach and monitor how our children use it. Zuckerberg has been quoted to say that “we didn’t want to build a “dislike” button because we didn’t want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts.” Click here to read the full article.

The intention is for people to be able to express sympathy or support for personal or world issues that are around us. The company has not determined what the button will actually be labeled or what graphic will be used we will keep you posted. More importantly, this is a time to have a conversation with our kids about how to show support, both online and in the real world.

Amanda Cooper, LCSW