Dissing Facebook’s like

At the Hacks and Hackers event last night, two Facebook representatives took the stage and talked about stuff Facebook can do for news organizations and journalists. But the journalists in attendance had only one thing on their minds: Dislike.

You see, Facebook now lets you “like” things you find online. Facebook wants you to like lots of stuff! But if you don’t like something, it asks you to walk on by, without tossing any brickbats. Journalists, based on last night’s crowd, are unhappy with this limitation. They badly want Facebook to let them actively, explicitly “dislike” things, too.

This suggests that we journalists are a negative bunch who dislike a whole lot of things. We wants to tell the world about them, we do. Nassty Facebook won’t let us!

The problem with “Like” and news content, of course, is that a lot of news is heartbreaking, and if you say you “liked” it you come off callous. This was evident from one of the Facebook presentation’s own slides.

It turns out that, on Facebook as everywhere else, people really respond to “touching emotional stories.” Facebook’s Justin Osofsky and Matt Kelly provided an example of such a tale: a headline that read “US Border Patrol shot a 14-year-old at the Mexican border.” Who wants to “like” that? In such instances, Facebook suggests users be given the option of “recommending” or “sharing” the story instead.

That covers the “bad news” case. But there’s also the “articles I disagree with” case, where you’re outraged by something and you want to share that outrage. “Like,” again, won’t do. But neither will “recommend.” This is the case for which “dislike” might make sense. But based on the rote response of the Facebook people to repeated, increasingly agitated questions on the subject, I don’t think Facebook will ever offer this choice.

The conclusion a lot of people drew was that Facebook was afraid of offending advertisers. That’s quite likely. But I also think Facebook is being smart: It’s avoiding torrents of trollery, negativity, and bullying that a “dislike” button would unleash. Some journalists might be happier in a world full of dislikeness, but I think most everyone else would be bummed.

UPDATE: Patrick Beeson points out in a comment, “I find it ironic that journalists want a dislike button, but detest negative comments posted on the websites that publish their stories.”

Chris O’Brien took great notes from the event — if you want the basics on what Facebook recommends this is highly useful.

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  1. Jeramia

    This is also a clash between what facebook started as, and what it now wants to be. Users petitioned for a ‘Dislike’ button a year or so ago, and I disagreed with it then for the same reasons you state at the end. I’m appalled enough by how many of my old high school friends are fans of Glenn Beck, a Dislike button would be too tempting, and potentially jeopardize relationships.

  2. I find it ironic that journalists want a dislike button, but detest negative comments posted on the websites that publish their stories.

    At Scripps, we opted for the recommend button over the like button. This allowed us to account for the negative stories as you pointed out.

    I think if folks want to disagree with a story, they should recommend it, and follow that with a comment via the fly-out that appears when clicking the recommend/like button.

  3. Patrick,

    Not familiar with the “fly-out that appears when clicking the recommend/like buttton.” I tried this and got nothing but a “Like” button and then nothing else. I now Like yet another thing I’m not sure I really want to Like.

    From a personal standpoint, Scott, I blanched big time when I learned that I had to decode whatever happened to “Fan.” What bothers me is the way Facebook and other tech companies think I want not only to learn their software, but also to re-learn it about every 3 months. It’s arrogant – and that’s not to mention the huge privacy issues involved in “Liking” anything on Facebook.

    As far as journalists and the “Unlike” – almost the entire world of social networking is cheerleading and boosterism about a trivial activity that is robbing us of huge amounts of our precious and short time here on earth. Anyone that might point that out the other side is ok by me.

  4. Derrick

    I’ll agree with Patrick that journalists hate reading negative comments on their articles online, but I think it is an over-simplification. Everyone respond negatively to negative comments, be it to their face or in writing. Journalists are no different. It takes a very big person to accept anonymous, at times malicious, criticism of your work.

    But they’re helpful. If someone writes “your story sucks” then you know you’ve disappointed at least that single reader. It’s not constructive, but it’s something you would never have learned before the advent of the Internet. Hopefully, as a writer, you get better feedback than my example.

    To get back to the original point of Scott’s post, if you can like something than you can dislike it. Sure, there’s an opportunity for misuse and abuse, but the current system limits our ability to share with the rest of the world. And wasn’t that the point of Facebook?

  5. Scott Rosenberg

    Derrick, I think this is one case where the dynamics of community design trump the desire to offer individuals a wide expressive spectrum. When we designed Open Salon we considered the same problem and decided, similarly, to go with a “Thumbs Up” option without also providing a “Thumbs Down.” There’s so much force attached to the negative in online communities anyway: If people hate something they’ll find ways to make it known. The positive stuff is what needs reinforcement.

    I understand and share Michael’s distaste for “cheerleading and boosterism.” The whole “like” thing doesn’t really map to my way of dealing with the online world. I’m down on Facebook for many reasons, including the one Michael outlines: I certainly can’t, and don’t want, to keep up with their onslaught of arbitrary redesign changes. I just think their choice on the “like” button question is eminently defensible.

    It was interesting to me to see how obsessed the journalists at this event were with this one minor interface issue, while no one was asking the really big question about Facebook, which is: Why would anyone want to import the entire Web into Facebook? Why are people so eager to assist Facebook in what looks like, to borrow my colleague Mark Follman’s comment, one giant land-grab?

    Let’s get to work building an open social network that gives us the benefits of FB-style networking (which are irresistible) without any one company owning it!

  6. @Michael

    This functionality may not be enabled on the website you’re viewing. It only seems to work if you use the JavaScript SDK method I describe here: http://patrickbeeson.com/blog/2010/jun/07/how-add-facebook-like-button/

    Also, I agree heartily with Scott’s line about Facebook avoiding the trolls by avoiding the dislike button. It’s also a savvy revenue move; what business wants to chance having their posts weighed down by an avalanche of dislikes?

  7. I believe that adding the dislike button is also way more complex than many journalists assume. Facebook has spent several years calibrating the algorithm. Still a work in progress. But as we heard last night, clicking “like” adds stuff to your profile and allows people to publish their content to you. How would profiles account for “dislikes”? How would the newsfeed adapt? Would it have to exclude things? Would it have to weight your sentiment? I’m sure they could work it out over time, but it’s not a matter of sticking another icon on a page and turning it loose. A little change like that has big implications throughout the network.

    It’s not like Digg has an un-Digg button. When I don’t like something, I often just type in the comment box rather than click like.

  8. This reminds me of a discussion I’ve had with some journalists about whether it is acceptable to “friend” (or accept a friend request from) someone who’s a source for you. When you drlll into journalists’ concerns about this, it comes down to the fact that the word “friend’ means something in real life that’s different than what it means on Facebook … so they’re concerned that being perceived as a “friend” of a source would be an actual or perceived conflict of interest.

    One could argue either side of this issue, I’m sure, but the source of the problem — like the “like” button — is that Facebook has appropriated a word (“like” or “friend”) that has specific, literal meanings in the “real world” that are different than the meaning on Facebook.


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