It’s hard to imagine a web without the Facebook “Like” button. When we encounter something that we feel good about on the net, reaching for the “Like” button has become something almost like a knee-jerk reaction. Last year however, a Chrome extension called Neutralike was released, and it essentially cleans out “Like” buttons on Facebook posts from friends. The extension was just one of the many ways people have tried to clean out the “Like” buttons, an expression of the dissatisfaction they have been feeling towards it.
The Unlikable “Like” Button
To understand why some people may react so strongly to the innocuous “Like” button, we have to begin to see it as something with more implications than just an expression of approval. Critics highlight its influences on the way we communicate with people we know, the way we interact with media content, and the way the advertising world and who-knows-what-other collects information about us. Let me just focus on the first aspect in this article.
According to critics of the “Like” button, such as blogger Elan Morgan, the Facebook “Like” is the “easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos.” The ease of response gives us a leeway to communicate with people we know without much thought or consideration and hence, she finds that she suffers from “a sense of disconnection within [her] online communities”. The conclusion is that “it turns out that there is more humanity and love in words than there are in the use of the Like.”
Liking the “Like” Button
This certainly sounds like a reasonable argument but take a moment to consider: are you really going to stop using the “Like” button? The thing is, such criticisms of the “Like” button are based on a few false dichotomies, which are simply not compatible with reality.
Yahoo Tech Columnist Rob Walker points out that “the existence of a Like button doesn’t prevent you from saying something more when that is called for.” In other words, the “Like” button does not create this divide of meaningful and meaningless communication and forces us all into the latter. People still have a choice. Walker also points out that other forms of communication, such as commenting on a post, may not necessarily be meaningful as well. In other words, communication tools similarly are not divided into meaningful and meaningless ones and it’s ridiculous to say Facebook “comments” are meaningful while “Likes” are not.
Like it or not
The debate surrounding the “Like” button brings to mind the question: Why do we need web design? Walker’s argument seems to suggest the age-old adage—it’s not the tool, but the use of the tool that is the problem. If user experience cannot really be controlled by design, does that mean that discourses on web design are totally irrelevant?
I believe tools and its use are in fact intricately linked. How we might use the tool is certainly something open to many other possibilities, such that our use of tools give meaning to the tools themselves, but the design of a tool to some extent still influences how we might use it. For instance, had the “Like” button been named something more gratuitous like “Awesome” (as it was when the idea was first conceived) instead, Walker would probably have more difficulty justifying his stand.
It’s always good to remember that the criticisms of the “Like” button and other discourses on web design are valuable, not so much because they provide conclusive evaluation of web design, but because they shed light on an important portion of the whole issue.
Eveleth, Rose. The Facebook Experience Without a Like Button. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/08/what-happens-when-you-neutralize-the-like-button/378951/
Honan, Mat. I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me/
Morgan, Elan. I Quit Liking Things On Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s How It Changed My View of Humanity. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from https://medium.com/@schmutzie/i-quit-liking-things-on-facebook-for-two-weeks-heres-how-it-changed-my-view-of-humanity-29b5102abace
Walker, Rob. Stop Hating on Facebook’s Like Button. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from https://www.yahoo.com/tech/stop-hating-on-facebooks-like-button-95464668494.html