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“Wow” : My Reaction to Facebook’s New Reaction Buttons

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An opinion piece on the new Facebook like button

After “Zack’s” announcement earlier this year of the upcoming new “like button”, the world was anxiously waiting to see what it would look like. In case you missed it, Facebook rolled-out this month in the US a set of seven emojis called “Facebook reactions” which can be clicked-on to react to a post : like, love, haha, yay, wow, sad and angry.  My Reaction to Facebook’s reactions was a “wow” full of cognitive dissonance. On one hand, I can see how the new options can help improve the Facebook algorithm and ultimately, one would hope, provide me with better more relevant content on my feed. On the other hand, I find it dangerous for the evolution of the human mind for Facebook to limit the expression of human emotion to seven reactions. Finally, despite knowing that a lot of research went into selecting these seven buttons, I question whether having such a large array of options, (and many similar options like “like” and “yay”) will actually increase user engagement.

Firstly, from a social standpoint, I wonder whether Facebook introducing the seven reactions is good for society. As humans we are slowly losing the ability to express complex emotions, replacing instead our written language by abbreviations, our emotions by emojis, and even sometimes replacing our spoken words by simple abbreviations, such as saying “LOL” instead of actually laughing out loud. I fear that by introducing the seven reactions, Facebook is promoting laziness of expression and further limiting the way in which people express themselves, especially since “yay” or “wow” are not particularly sophisticated emotions. I understand that Facebook is motivated by the opportunity to improve their algorithm, but from a social standpoint, I am sadden by this promotion of laziness, and the promotion of the slow death of the human language.

However, the advantages of the reactions buttons to Facebook, and hopefully to users are undeniable. Not only Facebook will be able to better understand user’s emotions behind each “like”, but it perhaps benefit from increased user engagement : when the like button felt inappropriate (e.g., a friend’s divorce), users simply wouldn’t engage with a post, whereas now they have other options to engage. Facebook will be able to monetize better quality data by selling more accurate targeting to advertisers, and hopefully provide a better user experience showing “haha” content to people who like to laugh and “angry” content to people who like to vent.

In all, the way I feel about Facebook reactions cannot really be captured by any of the seven emojis. On one hand I feel “sad” about the culture regression this causes to human kind. On the other hand, I feel “yay” about the data advantages and technological and business progress. However, the “human kind” argument aside, I still wonder whether Facebook got it right. I believe there are too many similar reactions (like, love, yay), a confusing reaction (is it a good wow or a bad wow?), and a lack of some key simple reactions like “scared”, “confused” or “annoyed”. Will these seven reactions further help Facebook understand each user better, or will it homogenize all our profiles over time?

2 thoughts on ““Wow” : My Reaction to Facebook’s New Reaction Buttons

  1. This is an interesting post, as I too experienced a range of emotions in reaction to the new Facebook ‘like’ button. However, I disagree with your argument that Facebook created the seven reactions to cover the extent of an individual’s emotions, and that this will somehow lead to cultural regression. Facebook introduced the original “Like” button in February 2009. In the 7 following years, Facebook users did not begin to converge to only having a positive reaction. Rather, the button merely served as a point of engagement, allowing users to quickly and easily interact with the platform. If past behavior is the best indicator of future success, then the new reaction buttons will encourage greater user engagement.

    You also hypothesized that users may become lazy, implying they would use a reaction button in place of typing a longer response. To test this, I would be interested in seeing data on the number of words used in an average Facebook reply before and after the introduction of the reaction buttons. I would specifically look at similar style posts. Using your example, I would focus on posts only about divorce. I would count the number of interactions with the post (likes and comments) before the introduction of the reaction button, and compare that to interactions with these posts after the launch of the reaction button. Anecdotally, I currently see many replies with very few words and short generic statements. These are not complex statements being crafted on Facebook. I would hypothesize that these types of statements would be the ones replaced with the new reactions. I do not think that the rare, longer, more thoughtful statements will change. Moreover, I would guess that many users who would not have otherwise replied to a post will use the new buttons to provide a quick reply. It is almost as-if the reaction buttons are targeting the non-consumers, people who would not otherwise have interacted with a post, such as that of a friend’s divorce.

  2. I appreciated your post and your recognition of the many advantages and disadvantages of these new reaction buttons. I am now curious if they will be able to adapt and iterate on these reactions, especially considering that there were no changes to “Like” in seven years as you mentioned. I know that many people want a “Dislike” button and were disappointed when this was not an option, and I wonder if Facebook will ever reconsider. It will be interesting to note any future changes or if they feel like the initial tests before launching this update were sufficient to keep the Reactions as is for another seven years.

    From the data standpoint, I am curious how/if Facebook will use users’ reactions to actually influence results. It is another way to measure engagement, leaving more ways for people to interact with posts, so I assume that the NewsFeed will serve more stories similar to those which people “react” to. I do wonder about your point about serving people who like to vent “angry” posts and what negative PR that could bring with it.

    Thank you for talking about this topic. It will definitely be interesting to watch!

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