Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.
—Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
On February 24, 2016, Facebook expanded its “like” button into a choice of six “reactions”—”like,” “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry.”
You can shake your fist at the sky and demand the freedom to “dislike” all you want, but all you’re really doing is demanding the right to kill off the bonds that bind people together.I don’t quite remember the first Facebook post that I noticed had the option for reactions attached to it. I think it was something that someone had given a “sad” face to—likely a prayer request in the CaPC Members-Only Forum (which you too can join for the low, low price of $5/mo). I could already see the potential, since such posts tend to garner a long string of one-word “Praying” comments, the exact sort of “ditto”-esque remarks that the “like” button was intended to declutter. This was exciting—possibly the biggest thing to hit Facebook since your mom joined.
I surveyed the new selection. The first thing I noticed was that there was an “angry” button, which seemed like a ticking time bomb to me, but whatever. The second thing I noticed was that the “love” button was essentially inaccessible to me, at least on my phone, due to some water damage that had rendered my touchscreen partially inoperable (putting a much-needed damper on my otherwise unbridled enthusiasm). And third, I noticed that my Facebook feed was once again overflowing with the outrage of people who DEMANDED to know why Facebook had STILL failed to add a “dislike” button.
And I sighed. Because haven’t we been over this before? You don’t want a dislike button, no matter how badly you think you do.
Really, the Cult of the Dislike Button isn’t terribly unlike the Cult of Donald Trump. It came seemingly out of nowhere and refuses to go away; it’s fanatically desperate for something that we all know will make things much, much worse; and it’s completely inexplicable to everyone except your racist aunt. A dislike button is both unnecessary and (more importantly) undesirable, and yet people keep demanding it. So let me explain why a dislike button is something you neither need nor want. If I can’t dissuade you from voting for Trump, maybe I can at least get you to see the light on this.
In the first place, you don’t need a dislike button. Along with the recently added “sad” and “angry” buttons, there are more than half a dozen other ways to convey your displeasure with a post: you can leave a negative comment; you can choose from a wide array of stickers built into the Facebook system, plus the Internet’s full library of images and animated GIFs; you can hide or report the post; you can unfollow, unfriend, or even block the poster. With such a rainbow of disgust at your fingertips, what would a dislike button even add? Maybe it’s time to admit that you’re just looking for a lazy way to be a jerk.
But even apart from all that, you don’t even want a dislike button. Oh, I know you think you do, but that’s only because you haven’t fully considered the likely outcome if Facebook added one. Consider what the purpose of a “like” is: it’s a quick thumbs-up of affirmation—an effortless way to show someone your approval. When you open Facebook and get the notification “27 people liked your post,” it’s a fast (if not terribly meaningful) emotional high. It makes you want to stick around awhile and come back often. But if you logged in and saw “27 people liked your post and 429 disliked it”…you’d get tired of that pretty quickly.
I know what you’re thinking: “Well, my posts wouldn’t get disliked! I’m awesome!” But even if that’s true (it’s not), your friends’ posts would still rack up dislikes until they got sick of it and stopped posting—or quit the site altogether. How much of a ghost town would your Facebook feed have to become before you stopped bothering to look at it?
From Facebook’s perspective, they really have one job, which is to keep people logging in and engaged with the site—and the vast wasteland of failed social media outlets is proof of what a delicate balancing act that is. It’d be easy to put a cynical spin on that (“They’re just trying to addict people so they can brainwash them with advertising!”), but I think it would be just as accurate to say that Facebook is trying to foster community through encouraging pro-social behavior.
A community, as it happens, is a delicate garden. And while there are infinite ways to kill a garden, there are a finite number of behaviors that will keep it alive and foster growth. You can shake your fist at the sky and demand the freedom to “dislike” all you want, but all you’re really doing is demanding the right to kill off the bonds that bind people together. Freedom to sow salt in the garden is ultimately no freedom at all.
There are—and always will be—those who bristle at any sort of limits on their behavior. How dare you tell me how to tend the garden? I’m free to do as I wish! But the voice from heaven will always respond the same way: You’re sowing salt; your nature prevents you from doing otherwise. Come and be free to tend and keep the garden, as you were intended to do.
Image by Giorgi Balakhadze via Wikimedia Commons.