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On Facebook, ‘Like’ Can Mean ‘Dislike.’ Get Over It.

When someone posts sad news to Facebook – the illness or death of a loved one, the loss of a job – or shares one of life’s little annoyances, like a particularly frustrating coffee spill, the sympathetic responses frequently include some variation of, “That’s why we need a ‘dislike’ button.”

For the devoted disliker, there are some options, like the Hater app and browser extensions. They are poor substitutes, but they’ll have to do, it seems. When Bob Baldwin, a Facebook product engineer, took part in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit this week, someone wondered whether we’ll ever see a “dislike” button. Baldwin responded:

“Actions on Facebook tend to focus on positive social interactions. Like is the lightest-weight way to express positive sentiment. I don’t think adding a light-weight way to express negative sentiment would be that valuable. I know there are times when it’d make sense, like when a friend is having a rough day, or got into a car accident like my sister yesterday (she’s okay!). For these times, a nice comment from a friend goes a long way.”

Baldwin is right that a few words of support would likely mean more to a sad Facebook friend than hitting a “dislike” button. But there’s another reason why we don’t need “dislike”: On Facebook, “Like” doesn’t mean like anymore.

At its light-weight heart, pushing the button really says “I hear you,” “Uh-huh,” “I acknowledge this,” or “Yup.” It says, “I read this and thought about it for a second.” Frequently, or even most of the time, genuine feelings of positivity are a big part of the “I acknowledge this” – you do like the photo from your friend’s vacation or her witticism about her subway trip home. But genuinely liking it isn’t the driving force behind the click – the motivation is to let the person know that you looked and considered, rather than skimming past her posts to find a cute cat video from someone else.

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