For those that may not quite understand the need, imagine your friend on Facebook posts about their parent dying — do you “like” that post?   Feels odd to most and many are unable to summon words to portray the compassion they feel, and there simply is no “HBD” equivalent to a tragedy.  HBD when its your birthday can be overlooked among the other messages that express something personal; “sadface” when you’re in anguish seems like another reminder to be sad.  So it’s a catch 22…say nothing, you’re unfeeling.  Like, and this could be misunderstood but most importantly just feels weird.  Or stare at a blank comment box and hope you come up with something

Facebook had no easy task here.  Measuring and recording something like “sentiment” has been a challenge as long we we’ve been around — now try that across cultures and at the scale required in the internet age.  Even things like “ambivalence” are important sentiments but hard to capture and while the word “hate” is often used hyperbolically to describe things we dislike, no one wants to support something like “encouraging hate with a click.”


Chris Cox, Chief Product Officer at Facebook’s post on the matter is troubling.  He indicates that extensive research was done in to what was most commonly posted on Facebook as a signal for which emotions they should represent to create a “fun” experience.  This shows a strong disconnect between the intent of the request of Facebook users, the growing desire of people to connect more deeply and personally, and a dumbing down of human emotions to a “fun experience.”

I would not have posted about this but I spent an hour with a mentor and friend today who is not on any social media, is a person of great authenticity, integrity, compassion, and understanding.  Also, the topic of social media came up during the course of our conversation.

The synthetic superficial nature of social media is what troubles my mentor most — encouraging the sharing of just those shining moments, the most beautiful selfies, the most fabulous experiences.  She knows, and I do too, that this is not what life is like.

So now we have Facebook REACTIONS…seven of them:

  • Four are clearly positive and two of those somewhat duplicative:  “love” amplifies the already available “like” but perhaps diminishes what love really is, “haha” is actually a reaction versus an emotion, and “yay” which is not only not how I spell that response (“yeah!”) but also unclear in its intent.  Likeminded racists or terrorists might “haha” and “yay” an attack, just as supporters of something positive might.
  • Two of them are clearly not-positive in connotation:  “sad” and “angry” don’t express compassion or empathy as the company asserts was the intent.
  • “Wow” is a possible middle-of-the-road response to express shock, or surprise.  Not much to say here.

I have a variety of problems with the approach taken here and the assumptions made informing the approach:

  1. Facebook skews overly positive and non-reflective of the depth of each of us and so do the REACTIONS.  Facebook is a breeding ground for us to put our best foot forward, so I’m not surprised by 70% of the REACTIONS being favorable or positive.  That said, the approach of only looking at the data here misses the wealth of human emotions people are not sharing today — things Sheryl Sandberg has shared openly in the loss of her husband and which Mark Zuckerberg shared related to miscarried pregnancies.  It’s these areas where we remain fearful of sharing.  These are the same areas where we are quick to judge and equally as quick to accept and support– when we agree.
  2. The notion of “dislike” is still blatantly missing and perhaps the most reflective of how we connect as humans.  I disagree with friends on a variety of issues.  I still love them, I dislike their point of view — and nothing is wrong with saying that.  I have absolutely no way of expressing this.
  3. These aren’t reactions – they are a mix of emotions, sounds, and states of being. 

Like I said, Facebook has waded in to difficult territory messing in the realm of emotion and sentiment but I think it would have been better they stayed out of it.  That’s what the individuals are accountable for who use Facebook, and those that choose to take the time to go deep will continue to do so, those that don’t, won’t.

Trying to technically create a “fun” way to express the breadth of emotion — well, that’s no fun at all and it’s a dramatic oversimplification of what two of their most senior leaders have tried to foster and nourish in the world — authenticity, a bit of messiness, and a appreciation of moments of our lives where “un fun” stuff happens but also serves as a great reminder of all the times we were “happy,” “grateful,” “thankful,” or felt “joy.”

Posted by Jason Krech

Faith, accountability, and dismissing any notion of being flawless are benchmarks of cool people. (Opinions are my own and represent no organization, corporation, or other entity I may be affiliated with.)

One Comment

  1. […] much as I called out the foray into isolating human reactions to seven overly positive and goofy symbols, I cannot ignore this new feature allowing anyone on […]

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