A “Like” on Facebook means far more than we’d like it to. It’s really a terrible signal because it can mean so many different things:
- I read this.
- I saw this.
- I appreciated this.
- I acknowledge that you tagged me because you thought I would appreciate this. Thanks, bro.
- I’m liking errything in my feed cause I’m half asleep, Facebookin’ it in bed.
- I agree with this.
- IM ON THE FACEBOOKS! CLICK CLICK CLICK
- This is the greatest thing I’ll never read.
- I’m sorry for your loss.
- This was an accident. I really didn’t mean to Like this. My Like will disappear suddenly and without warning, leaving you wondering why. Here, let me comment explaining why I revoked my Like. No, that’s a terrible idea. Let me delete this comment, too. Ok. Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine now here, thank you.
Complicating the issue, it’s never quite clear what the absence of a Like means, either. There are millions of people out there who actually like stuff they see on Facebook but never Like it. Little Thumbs-Up synapses fire in their brains when they see my viral cat meme but the electrical signals never make it down to the fingers, so I have no idea! Every so often a friend who never, ever interacts with me on social media will mention to me how much they enjoyed reading about my daughter’s imagination or some CaPC article I posted on Facebook and I’m surprised to learn that they own a computer.
There is no standard Facebook “Like” etiquette, and that’s fine. As long as we don’t take these things too seriously and we show one another grace, it’s a fine–albeit annoying at times–form of communication–no different in that sense than a wink.
But while we’re deciding willy-nilly what our Likes mean, Facebook has its own way of interpreting them, and their interpretation affects the way we communicate to one another.
There was once a time (so the ancients tell us) when you would see every post from every person and page you friended or Liked on Facebook. This might sound like the Golden Era of Facebook but no one would use the site if they didn’t filter the posts on our feed now. You’d never see my humorous cat meme if your feed was filled with automated posts from NikePlus, Spotify, Netflix, Instagram, Vine, etc. So, Facebook curates the posts that you see. Some of this curation goes on with the posts from your friends, and Facebook has given users a lot of control over how that curation works. If I don’t want to see any of my friends’ Farmville requests, boom, I can filter them out. But Facebook doesn’t give you much control over the Pages you’ve Liked.
Right now, whatever Pages you Liked on Facebook, you’re probably only seeing less than 10% of their posts, and possibly much less than 10%. Which is great if you’ve Liked Buzzfeed or the Huffington post, but what if you Liked Grandma’s Etsy store or your church’s page or a local band? Facebook is still going to keep 90%+ of Grandma’s crocheted Bieber Blankets out of your newsfeed, unless some fans of her Page Like the posts.
When you Like or comment on a post from a Facebook Page, that signals to Facebook that the content is interesting, so they send it to more fans’ newsfeeds. If you like a post, more people see it. If you don’t, then few people see it.
And this makes sense, right? What better way for Facebook to determine when you want to see a post than to look at how many people have Liked and commented on it? Except that most people on Facebook don’t know that their Like or lack of Like (LoL) has this effect.
When you Like something, you aren’t merely signaling that you saw it or read it or appreciated the post. You’re also telling Facebook that other people should see this post, too. In this sense, by choosing not to Like a post, Facebook may interpret it as a “Dislike,” when really you just didn’t have the time to read it. This matters because the Pages we choose to follow can be things we care about deeply, and we should know what our interactions with them actually mean.
Like any form of communication, social media is a mess: we spend much of our time mis-communicating and trying to respond to miscommunication. But we can get better, incrementally, by learning what our words and our actions mean and what they do to and for others, which is really the most basic way of loving your neighbor.