One Potential Problem with Facebook's "Dislike" Button

September 18th 2015

Facebook is rolling out a "dislike" button in the near future, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday, and though it is marketed as a tool designed to help users express empathy on the social network, there has already been some concern that people are not going to use the feature for this purpose. Specifically, critics of the button say that it will contribute to mental health issues that have been previously linked to Facebook use.

For years users have requested a "like" button counterpart that would allow them to express disapproval for posts, to effectively vote against content that friends and pages share on Facebook. But though he has heard the arguments supporting this feature, Zuckerberg said "that's not something that we think is good for the world." Instead, he wants the button, which is still in development, to have a productive and positive purpose.

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"If you are sharing something that is sad, whether it’s something in current events like the refugee crisis that touches you or if a family member passed away, then it might not feel comfortable to 'like' that post," he added. "Not every moment is a good moment."

Zuckerberg makes a good point, but preventing people from using the "dislike" button as they see fit poses a challenge. And if people do begin to use the new button to express disapproval of posts, that could become an even bigger problem.

How does Facebook affect mental health?

Flickr/search-engine-land -

Spending a lot of time on Facebook can be bad for people suffering from depression because it tends to encourage social comparisons between friends, making some feel worse about themselves and perpetuating a cycle of negative thinking. A recent study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that this social media cycle is often associated with increased depressive symptoms and destructive emotions.

Previous research has also shown that Facebook users frequently create posts that present themselves in the best, most idealized light. It is a process known as "identity construction," and pretty much everybody does it to some extent. You post what you want your connections to see and keep other, less flattering parts of your life from public disclosure.

"Although these Facebook self-presentations appear to have a positive effect on the subjective well-being of those constructing their online identities, frequently viewing these portrayals may intensify other people’s negative cognitions behind the scenes," the researcher wrote. "This emotional pluralistic ignorance combined with Facebook social comparisons based upon their friend’s highlight reels, could potentially provoke or exacerbate negative emotions and cognitions, and thus, contribute to greater depressive symptoms."

What could a "dislike" button mean for mental health on Facebook?

dislike buttonFlickr/Sean MacEntee -

Now, if Facebook integrates technology that allows for disliking posts, it stands to reason that such a feature could exacerbate the mental health problems associated with the social media site. Unless you have terrible friends, you probably won't have to worry about people hitting "dislike" on personal posts that you make; but as far as shared posts are concerned—particularly those of a divisive, political nature—there is a distinct possibility that at least some of your ideologically opposed friends will feel tempted to voice their disapproval, especially when doing so is as easy as clicking a button.

"While many users love the idea of Facebook adding a dislike button, I don't think there are many users who are dying to have their own content disliked," a Facebook engineer wrote in 2012 in response to a question about the "dislike" button on the online forum, Quora. "Like music that auto-plays on profiles or the ability to have animated profile backgrounds, there are many things users want for themselves, but don't enjoy when given to others in their social network."

Facebook would be wise to approach the "dislike" button with due caution, as "likes," unlike "upvotes" on Reddit, are not anonymous. Hitting "dislike" can immediately affect the person whose content you're disliking. And so far, Facebook has not indicated how they plan to avoid "dislike" button abuse—but there is still time to develop the button, Zuckerberg suggested.

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