A school friend’s mom passed away last week. He posted the news on Facebook with a short, dignified note, giving brief details of how his mother had died and information about the funeral. Feeling for his loss, I started to write, “So sorry to hear your sad news…”
But before I pressed “Enter,” I scrolled through the comments others had already posted — passionate eulogies and anecdotes from people who really knew my friend’s mom, celebrating her spirit and uniqueness. Suddenly my well-meaning comment seemed trite below such heartfelt words. As I deleted it, I wished there were another way to let my friend know I’d seen his news, and that I was feeling for him.
Facebook has a problem. As it’s grown, the social network has omitted sophisticated ways for users to interact with each other’s content, giving options only to “Like,” share or comment. Now, it needs a “Sympathy” button.
“Sympathy” is the perfect sentiment to cover what Facebook lacks. It can mean a feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, and also an understanding between people — a common feeling. It would be appropriate for nearly every Facebook post that gears toward the negative, from sending “Sympathy” if someone loses a loved one to saying “I sympathize” if someone’s in bed with the flu.
Clicking the “Sympathy” button would let your Facebook friend know you’ve seen his post and that he’s in your thoughts. And unlike the fabled “Dislike” option, it would be difficult to hijack or abuse the notion of sympathy.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows he has an issue to address here. In December 2014, he revealed that Facebook has been considering different ways to let people emote on the platform.
“Everyone feels like they can just push the ‘Like’ button, and that’s an important way to sympathize or empathize with someone,” Zuckerberg said in an in-house Q&A session. “But there are times when you may want the simplicity of a one-click response, but a ‘Like’ doesn’t feel appropriate.”
I agree, and wonder if “Like” even means “like” anymore. A dearth of alternatives has forced people to use the “Like” button as a way of acknowledging something, giving it a nod, saying, “I feel ya.” Our friends don’t actually like when we’ve suffered misfortunes; instead, they’re using the button as a means of expressing sympathy.
The general Facebook population wants an alternative, too. In 2010, more than 3 million Facebook users were fans of the “Dislike Button” Facebook Page, while 1.3 million users signed a petition calling for Facebook’s implementation of such a button.
However, it’s completely understandable why Facebook never introduced a “Dislike” button. Although it would be a popular move in the short-term for the Facebook masses, it doesn’t make good business sense. Brands that have spent time and money carefully curating Pages and content would suddenly see a wave of “Dislikes,” potentially discouraging customers.
From a consumer point of view, a “Dislike” option isn’t a wise move for a platform that relies on user-generated content. If people get negative responses to their posts, they will be less likely to speak out and share in the future. Facebook also has to tread very carefully around the very important issue of cyberbullying.
“Sympathy” would bridge the gap between “Like” and “Dislike.” People use various social networks for myriad reasons, but Facebook continues to be the go-to destination for the average connected consumer to share major life events and news. We turn to Facebook for commiseration as well as celebration.
If Facebook is to fully mature as a platform, it needs to give people the built-in tools to express a spectrum of emotions and opinions, not just the simplistic “Like.” With a “Sympathy” button in place, “Like” can go back to meaning “like,” and Zuckerberg would be one step closer toward his lofty goal of making Facebook a “reflection of real-world relationships.”