“I doubt it will cause [Facebook users] to start wantonly disliking pictures of their friends’ babies, dogs, cats and cooking experiments. I suspect it will mainly be used to express mild disapproval, or to express solidarity when someone posts about a negative event like a death or a loss.”
Andrea Forte, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Computing & Informatics, who studies social and participatory media, shared this view in a USA Today story as her first reaction to the announcement by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the social media site has begun to develop a “dislike” button as way to express empathy for a sad post.
Zuckerberg noted that this has been one of the most common questions the company has gotten since 2009 when it first rolled out the thumbs-up “like button.” Forte, who studies how people of various ages and from diverse cultural backgrounds use social media, suggests that the addition of a way to clearly express empathy is a long-awaited and needed feature for social media users.
“Social approval and the experience of empathy are such important parts of life,” she said. “When someone posts about something sad, like losing a loved one or experiencing a traumatic event, there isn’t an easy way to express sympathy or solidarity. You can’t ‘like’ someone’s grief, but commenting can also be difficult and awkward. So the post is likely to languish without a lot of attention – exactly the opposite of what people might hope would happen.”
Forte is currently collaborating with doctoral candidate Nazanin Andalibi on research about reactions to negative experiences that are posted on social media.