“Not every moment is a good moment,” said Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s question and answer session last week.
“People have asked about the ‘dislike’ button for many years. Today is the day I get to say we are working on it,” (drops microphone).
As usual, the end of his sentence generated a meadow-fresh gust of wind that parted the hair of every media representative in the audience. An audible “ooh!” swept the room, birds sang, balloons were released by groups of small children across the globe and the stock market experienced a minor crash before re-establishing itself as Marketbook.
Though I jest, the announcement did cause a huge media ripple and genuine disconcerting consequences on the stock market. Why?
Facebook users are difficult to predict. Aside from being emotionally crippled (thus powerless to express themselves without a designated social media function), they can’t be qualified.
We can look at age groups and demographics, but it’s impossible to say “Facebook users want/do X, Y and Z” because the audience is so diverse that what is true for one group isn’t for another. There is no all-encompassing formula for an audience so large, beyond the tried and tested, or what already exists.
All Facebook can do is roll the changes out, test them – then quickly get rid of them and pretend nothing happened if they don’t work. Predicting the outcome of the ‘dislike’ button is a fool’s game, as in this moment, even Facebook wouldn’t be able to call it.
One thing we do know is that Zuckerberg has been mercilessly hounded for the ‘dislike’ button ever since the ‘like’ button appeared. Check out this article from 2011, discussing the ‘like’ function a year after its introduction and the potential consequences of a ‘dislike’ button.
Today, it is still impossible to scroll through a Facebook feed and not see the classic “wish there was a dislike button (sad emoji)” comment on the bottom of morose updates. If I feel the need to roll my eyes every time I see them, Zuckerberg must have been demented by it.
Being able to finally respond to that hounding demand must have come as quite a relief... Which is possibly why we see Zuckerberg visibly puff out his chest as he announces it. His eyes look slightly teary as he adopts his politician voice again: “WORRY NOT, GOOD TOWNS’ PEOPLE. WE, THE FACEBOOK, HAVE FINALLY HEARD YOUR FIRST WORLD PLIGHT REGARDING THE EXPRESSING OF YOUR PREFERENCES.”
Zuckerberg is very familiar with announcing the future. So much so that he expects it from himself as much as we expect it from him. This is why something about this announcement feels incredibly… Premature.
One of the things I like about Mark (can I call him Mark?) is that he usually comes across as a “just do it” kind of guy, even if behind the scenes he’s a tenacious nightmare. The persona he projects makes it look as though changing the way the world communicates has been utterly effortless for him, rolling out the testing of a new feature before press even catch wind of it.
In comparison, this week’s Facebook press came across more than a little unsure of itself:
“We’re working on a dislike button. Did… Did I say dislike? I mean… ‘I’m sorry’. Kind of. I mean empathy. I mean negative expression. I mean – um – I mean hug button. Mercy, what have I done? Poke was bad enough. Just put an emoji in there and let’s be done with this.”
During the last few weeks, we’ve had huge announcements from the likes of Twitter, Google, Instagram and Apple – which leads me to believe that Mark felt some level of pressure to remind everybody that Facebook is still top dog.
“Over the years of people asking for this, it is apparent that people aren’t looking for the ability to down vote people’s posts,” said Mark, elaborating on the intention for the button. “They’re looking for a way to express empathy. If you are sharing something that is sad, something in current events like the refugee crisis touches you, or a family member passes away, it might not feel comfortable to like that post.”
It is enough to make you wonder whether anno