Should we dislike the ‘Like’ button?

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What would it look like?.. What would it mean for marketers & businesses?

Facebook’s never had a “Dislike” button, but Mark Zuckerberg has hinted that it could happen. The Facebook CEO probably considered a “Dislike” button in the past — perhaps hesitating because there’s already so much negativity on the web. And who can blame him?! YouTube has a dislike button — and that place is a cesspool! Nothing but trolls & hate!

Zuckerberg has never even tested a Facebook Dislike button — and there was no reason to believe he would… UNTIL NOW!

Social media firms have taken note. More likes, new notifications, even an old-fashioned email – we never know what we’ll get when we pick up our phone and pull the lever. Faced with a sudden drop in likes, Leah is embarrassed to say she began buying ads on Facebook “just to get that attention back”. It’s easy to empathise. Social approval can be addictive, and what’s a Facebook “like” if not social approval distilled into its purest form? Researchers liken our smartphones to slot machines, triggering the same reward pathways in our brain. The concept is now ubiquitous across the web, from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter. The benefit for platforms is obvious. A single click is the simplest way for users to engage – much easier than typing out a comment. But the idea took a while to refine.

Should it be called the “awesome” button? Did the symbol work?

While a thumbs up means approval in most cultures, in others it has a much cruder meaning.

Eventually, in February 2009, the Like button was launched. “The stats went up so fast. Fifty comments became 150 likes, almost immediately, Leah Pearlman recalls. “People would start making more status updates, so there was way more content, and it all just worked.”Meanwhile, at Cambridge University, Michal Kosinski was doing a PhD in psychometrics – the study of measuring psychological profiles. His fellow student Aleksandr Kogan had written a Facebook app to test the “big five” personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Taking the test gave the researchers permission to access your Facebook profile, with your age, gender, sexual orientation and so on. The test went viral.

The dataset swelled to millions of people, and the researchers could see everything they had ever “liked”, as well as the public data of their friends.  Facebook has since restricted which data gets shared with app developers. But one organisation still gets to see all your likes and more besides: Facebook itself. And it can afford to employ the world’s brightest machine-learning developers to tease out conclusions.

What can Facebook do with its window into your soul? Two things.

First, it can tailor your newsfeed so you spend more time on Facebook – whether that means showing you cat videos, inspirational memes, things that will outrage you about Donald Trump, or things that will outrage you about Donald Trump’s opponents. This isn’t ideal – it makes it harder and harder for people with different opinions to conduct a sensible conversation. Second, it can help advertisers to target you. The better the ads perform, the more money it makes.

Targeting adverts is nothing new.

Long before the internet and social media, if you were opening a new bicycle shop in Springfield, say, you might have chosen to advertise in the Springfield Gazette or Cycling Weekly, rather than the New York Times or Good Housekeeping. Of course, that still wasn’t very efficient. Most Gazette readers wouldn’t be cyclists, and most subscribers to Cycling Weekly wouldn’t live near Springfield. But it was the best you could do.

Perhaps we should worry more about Facebook’s undoubted proficiency at serving us more adverts by sucking in an inordinate amount of our attention, hooking us to our screens. How should we manage our compulsions in this brave new social media world? We might cultivate emotional literacy about how the algorithm affects us, and if social approval feels as vital as oxygen, maybe more self-love is the answer.

If I see any good comics on the subject, I’ll be sure to click “like”.

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