A ‘Dislike’ for Zuckerberg

Why introducing new buttons on Facebook could lead to an explosion of aggression on the Internet

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg announced that soon a “dislike” button will appear on the social network in addition to the familiar “like” button. This news is no less a topic of discussion in the mainstream press than the situation in Syria. Such are the laws of the modern world, where people soak up information and interact on social networks, and where the rules of the game on those social networks determine the daily life of 100 million inhabitants of developed countries. “The medium is the message,” as the famous author Marshall McLuhan wrote. The channel of communication determines what you can express within it and what you can draw out of it. The classic era of Facebook, which is now coming to an end, was pronouncedly optimistic. But as the “dislike” button enters virtual life it will bring with it institutional doubts, polarity and discord. We’ve already had these things for some time, of course, but the possibility of expressing your dissatisfaction with the touch of a button to this person and that person on a social network (or on a media article) will take mutual aggression to the next level.

Zuckerberg believes that the “dislike” button should be used not for rating posts negatively, but rather for expressing sympathy when a user posts tragic or sad content, for example. There is a point to this, and in July, after the death of our soldiers in Omsk, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, Dmitri Muratov, wrote about this topic. Indeed it looks bizarre; people make a show of how much they “like” the grief of others, photos of wartime events or disasters. Of course these things shouldn’t be “liked.” And users should have other means to express their emotions (then again, we do already have them; they’re called “words”).

However there has been no shortage of objections to this decision. The Internet is losing its simplicity. Where there once was one universal button that served many purposes (the editors of several Internet media sites, for example, attribute the success of their content precisely to the number of “likes” they receive from Facebook), now a second button has appeared. Potentially, a whole zoo of new functions could follow, all designed to express our reactions to what we’ve read. The American press has jokingly suggested other ideas for Zuckerberg: a “No Way!” button, a “Very Funny!” button, a “That’s None of Your Business!” button, and a few dozen others. Other articles on this topic have put forth the already concerned opinions of expert psychologists who say the people harmed the most by the “dislike” button will be teenagers. Today’s young Internet users are faced with one major headache: What do you do if you get less “likes” than your classmate? But all of this is built around a somewhat positive agenda: Everyone receives “likes” after all, whereas the “dislike” button opens a huge possibility for individual or group campaigns against particular teenagers (or perhaps even against fully adult users). Can you imagine waking up in the morning to see that under each of your posts on Facebook there are thousands of “dislikes”? The “dislikes,” unlike comments, come with no explanations. But their meaning is unambiguous: You are a loser. You, in all likelihood, want to “dislike” all of your attackers in response. All in all, a departure from the monopoly of “like” will lead to a torrent of mutual aggression. Social networks are going to transform into an endless hate competition, whose conflicts will, one has to presume, overflow into the real world with greater and greater frequency. Such a scene, arguably, will find passionate fans in Russian society.

The basic function of the “dislike” button, incidentally, was long ago implemented in part on our own domestic social network “Odnoklassniki.”* There users can rate photos with scores of 1 to 5, with the option of giving a 5+ rating for 50 rubles. There’s also a “Cool” button on the site, the equivalent of “like,” but all of the squabbling comes about precisely because of ratings on pictures that, in the opinion of the “classmates” who posted them, are too low. Try to put any rating less than a 5 on “Odnoklassniki” and see how much abuse comes pouring out at you. Now they want to put this into practice on an international level.

It seems like there has always been a “like” button, but it only appeared on Facebook five years ago in April 2010. At the time, attentive users noticed the sharp decline in substantive comments. Why write when you can just press a button to express your approval or support? The appearance of new buttons will aggravate this tendency. Instead of criticizing someone, you can simply nail them to the cross with a button. The current pattern of typical social network use, where people most often just scroll past and ignore things they don’t like, is becoming a thing of the past.

Zuckerberg’s interests in all this are completely transparent; this is just business. The more activity users engage on Facebook, the more personal information they will provide to Zuckerberg’s corporation, where it will then be carefully analyzed and sold off to advertisers. Rest assured: some form of a “dislike” button will appear in the end. But it would be better to leave everything as it is, or, as we’ve suggested, replace the “like” button with something more neutral.

*Translator’s note: “Odnoklassniki” translates as “classmates.”

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