Facebook's ‘sympathise’ button wouldn't get a ‘like’ from me

Clicking a button probably isn't the best way to show you care

Ellen E. Jones
Monday 09 December 2013 15:26 GMT
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

What’s the best way to support a friend going through a hard time? Pop round for a visit? Send flowers? Or ‘like’ their sad status update on Facebook?

That last option has long struck most Facebook users as somehow inadequate, but currently, if a friend posts bad news, there are limited ways to express sympathy. You can click ‘Like’ - hardly the most sensitive response to news of a beloved pet's death - or you can compose a comment to post underneath their status. This may involve pressing as many as 12 different keys in succession and - srsly? - Who has the time? As a result, many a plea for social affirmation has been left hanging awkwardly in the digital breeze without so much as a “u ok hun?” in response.

Now Facebook has a solution; a ‘sympathise’ button which will appear as an option on any status tagged as ‘sad’. Because nothing says “I truly care for you, friend” like pausing for approximately half a second as you scroll down your newsfeed.

You may be wondering why Facebook doesn’t already have the ‘Dislike’ button that users have been requesting for almost as long as the site’s been active. In a Reddit thread back in April, someone with the screen name “Buttraper” (Dislike) asked Facebook engineer Bob Baldwin that very question: “Actions on Facebook tend to focus on positive social interactions,” said Baldwin, quite reasonably. “I don’t think adding a light-weight way to express negative sentiment would be that valuable.”

In other words, the lack of a Dislike button wasn’t based on a design flaw, or a failure to engage with user requests - it was deliberate. Facebook is intended to be used largely as a forum for lightweight boasting, not a substitute for genuine, supportive relationships. If you’re posting sad statuses, you’re not only missing the point of Facebook, you're missing the point of friendship.

Now, however, it seems Facebook is on the brink of a disappointing climb-down. Far from enhancing our digital vocabulary, a sympathise button will only limit the rich expressiveness of online silence. What if you’re sorry your friend has been dumped, but feel the real tragedy is their decision to air this dirty laundry in public? What if you’re so sick of looking at pictures of luxury holidays that you think it only reasonable if their return flight was delayed on the runway for two hours? The campaign for a “schadenfreude” button starts here.

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