As anyone who’s intimately familiar with Facebook can tell you, it’s hardly all innocuous. Among the cute cat photos, selfies, and mementos of the previous weekend’s revelry is far darker and more harmful content. Separating the gems from the detritus is simple enough, but the world’s most popular network has never implemented a way to easily register displeasure — in other words, a down-voting system. But that’s finally changing.
At a town hall Q&A event this morning at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters, Mark Zuckerberg revealed not only that a “dislike” button was the works, but that it’ll soon begin appearing for a limited subset of users. “We’ve finally heard you and we’re working on this and we will deliver something that meets the needs of the larger community,” he said.
The decision is a significant reversal for Facebook, which for years has argued that the platform provided other, better alternatives for voicing disapproval. “The decision has always been about the negative impact this dynamic would have on the user experience,” wrote a Facebook engineer in 2012 on Q&A website Quora. “It wouldn’t be particularly novel, since commenting provides a very active channel for communicating negative feedback.”
Zuckerburg said integrating the dislike button is “complicated,” and it’s not difficult to imagine why. Such a tool without restraint is ripe for abuse; users could pile on unpopular posts and people, bury advertisements, and force a system of social curation on newsfeeds. But Zuckerburg seemed aware of the pitfalls. “We don’t want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts,” he said. “That doesn’t seem like the kind of community that we want to create: you don’t want to go through the process of sharing some moment that was important to you in your day and have someone downvote it.”
Facebook’s system will be tailored more narrowly, Zuckerburg implied, as way of expressing empathy — consolation, for example, or solidarity. “Not every moment is a good moment,” Zuckerburg said. “If you share something that’s sad like a refugee crises that touches you or a family member passes away, it may not be comfortable to like that post … I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it.”
Zuckerburg didn’t divulge a release schedule for the dislike button, but given the rapidity of its development — Zuckerburg first mentioned the possibility of a dislike mechanism only a few short months ago — it likely isn’t far out.