No Love for Facebook Reactions

On Facebook, love’s only a click away.

In fairness, so are other five other emotions. Last week, the social media giant increased the emotions users can use to react to comments. Where before they could only like, now they can love and laugh or express shock, sadness, or anger.

Facebook users have enjoyed the feature on statuses, so developers expanded it.

The update is simple enough, but there’s another layer worth exploring. Facebook hosts a staggering amount of communication and interaction. When that communication is altered, it signals another step in our descent away from meaningful connection through actual language.

For example, let’s say you post a picture of your dog on Facebook. People react to it or don’t. You just wanted to share the picture. You don’t live or die by their reactions.

But later, you share a news article about the president’s conflicts of interest (not a huge stretch nowadays). In doing so, you were voicing an opinion and hoping to prompt informed reactions. But instead, your friends simply “love” those comments they agree with and “angry” those they don’t. That not only saps the post of its original intent, but discourages future discussion.

Not every dog-photo-liker is also a political-post-commenter. But the easier you can react, the less you’ll want to discuss. By giving us the option to “haha” or “wow” a comment, Facebook is limiting our range of response and turning what could be complex or thoughtful reactions into single-click emoticons. It’s not that comment reactions prevent us from thinking and communicating. They just make it easier to do neither.

And that’s fine when you’re thinking of Facebook in terms of cute dog videos and fast-forwarded recipes. For most users, the site offers an easy connection or distraction.

It’s also a major news source for many American adults. For some, it’s their gateway to the internet. The comment reaction update comes at when fake news proliferates and people limit their political discussions to the bubbles where they’re sure to find agreement. Facebook has said it’s fighting fake news. But adding a feature that allows users to limit their emotional reactions to one of six options shows that Facebook doesn’t care about clear communication.

Comments sections are the primary space for online discourse, whether in a subreddit thread or beneath a YouTube video. A username is the only prerequisite to voicing your opinions or engage in debate.

Yes, that makes them vulnerable to trolls and bigots. But in the long run, good ideas always triumph over bad ones. When comments sections are open, it means not only sharing ideas but opportunities for debate.  That’s where likes (or upvotes) can come in handy–commenters can self-govern by pushing obvious assholes out of the discussion.

But turning that singular action into an array of emotional validations isn’t helpful. It’s not cute, either. It’s just another exchange designed to keep us scrolling.

Disagree? Leave a comment. Who knows how I’ll react?