Social Networking meets Complex Human Emotions: Facebook Unveils ‘Reactions’

by Matt Klassen on October 9, 2015

Starting today certain Facebook users will have the opportunity to explore and express a wider gamut of nuanced emotions on the social network, certainly more nuanced than the ubiquitous thumbs-up ‘Like’ button at least. The social network officially began the testing phase of its new “Reactions” feature, icons that allow users to express love, laughter, happiness, shock, sadness and anger, finally adding some much needed texture to the fairly monolithic emotional interactions previously available.

While the change may seem superficial and long overdue, consider for a moment just how profound a shift this is for Facebook, as the ‘Like’ button has become so enmeshed in the social network’s culture that it servers as its de facto moniker, even gracing the lobby of the company’s corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

But for years Facebook users have been clamouring for more, with most wishing a ‘Dislike’ button would be added, but the social network long resisted this change, not wanting to avoid turning the social network into a lawless flame wars platform. With Reactions, clearly Facebook is taking a different tack, hoping that by adding more complex emotional responses that the social network will be able to connect us all through all the different seasons of life, the good ones and the bad.

Last month Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted that a more nuanced approach would soon be coming to the social network, acknowledging that the ‘Like’ button often failed to adequately convey proper emotions, particularly given the fact that “not every moment is a good moment.” The Reactions feature will solve that problem, finally allowing us a different response than a thumbs-up when someone shares a tragic or unfortunate event.

“What they really want is an ability to express sympathy,” Zuckerberg said. “If you’re expressing something sad…it may not feel comfortable to ‘like’ that post, but your friends and people want to be able to express that they understand.”

In order to post a reaction to Facebook content, mobile users will have to long-press the ‘Like’ button, while PC users will have to hover over it, resulting in an array of reaction images in a pop-up menu. Any given post will then display a counter over each reaction posted, a subtle feature that will somehow be turned into a marketing scheme in the near future no doubt.

As mentioned, Facebook has long resisted this change, not wanting to turn the social network into something where posts are voted up or down, or turning it into a popularity contest. More to the point, while users may want a ‘Dislike’ button, I think we can all see the havoc that would rage across the social network, as flame wars, spamming, online bullying and every other terrible thing we say anonymously behind our keyboards would be sent spiralling out of control.

Unfortunately for those interested in offering a more nuanced response to the news of the death of someone’s goldfish, the testing phase won’t be available to everyone, as the company is starting its real-world trials in Spain and Ireland only (news that can now be followed by a ‘sad face’), but if things go smoothly I would guess it won’t be long before it’s made available to a wider audience.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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