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Facebook is an online social networking service headquartered in Menlo Park, California.
This announcement was cause for thumbs-up galore, among other reactions: apprehension, verbal dislikes, moral outrage, noisy indifference. “How about a meh button?” one jerk commented, on Facebook. (I’d like a “meh”-destroying button—that word’s been a phlegmatic drag long enough.) Many Facebook users, like Zuckerberg and his team, don’t know exactly what they’d want this new button to say.
Emoting may be quick; articulating emotion isn’t. Nobody wants to like photographs of hurricane destruction or the announcement of a cancer diagnosis, but we do want to connect. But expressing other emotions with a button is tricky. So is receiving them. The good thing about likes is that we want them. Nobody wants cancer and forty-seven dislikes. Empathy is a strange thing to buttonize. So what should it say?
Let’s see. An empathy button? You have forty-seven empathizes. (No.) A flowers button? You have forty-seven flowers. (Lovely, creepy, funereal.) A hug button? You have forty-seven hugs. (Cozy, Stuart Smalley-ish, harassment-ish.) Another idea is a love button, possibly expressed with a heart icon, like on Instagram. Not “I love you,” necessarily, and not “I love your bad news,” but “I’m sending you love.” Forty-seven friends send love. Forty-seven thousand people send love to the refugees. (For a crisis, love and money might be a fine combination.) That could work. Sending love addresses the sender’s sympathy and the receiver’s feelings. It might feel good—an Orwellian kind of good, but good—to have dozens of friends hit a “send love” button when you need it.
For everyday empathy situations—a sick pet, a stubbed toe, bad vibes—I quite like the idea of an oof button. (You have forty-seven oofs.) An oof is a little funny, a visceral comic-strip sock in the gut, and it feels your pain without getting maudlin about it. It evokes memories of one of the best paintings at MOMA, and it’s not too Ziggyish or pathetic. You could post, “I got sick and had to miss my friend’s wedding!,” generate some oofs, feel consoled without feeling like a sad sack, and move on with your life.
An oof could also be an “it’s complicated” for feelings. When a conservative white person posts a photo of a Chia Obama head and it makes you feel a bit sick, try an oof! Another good contender for this category is a hmm button. Your recipients could read “hmm” as skepticism, or as “How interesting!” This would be suitable for people who post articles that feel wrongheaded or mean but whom you can’t offend. You’re sitting there frowning, but there’s currently no button for how you feel. “Hmm” could be a great first step toward cowardly confrontation—“I see what you’re doing, I’m thinking about it, and hmm.” As C+C Music Factory once taught us, some situations in life are real chin-strokers. Additionally, the combination of the hmm button and other emotion buttons could provide nuance. I know a hunter who posts photos of his adorable dog and excitedly tags them with hunting hashtags. If there were a hmm button, I could click “like” for the dog and “hmm” for #killinstuff.
Another good Facebook button would be a pair of eyeballs: a straightforward “I saw this.” Or even “I read this.” More neutral than hmm, less goofy than oof, the eyeballs could be something like those fun-loving emoji eyes, glancing off to the side mischievously. When someone posts an article that interests you but you don’t want to opine about it, give it some eyeballs. When people try to crowdsource an apartment search or a job hunt, give them some eyeballs. When one of your more outrageous friends posts photos of a lavish luxury-car purchase, or a long essay about his trip to Papa Gino’s, give it some eyeballs. Eyeballs, though obviously creepy, could soften the creepier creepiness inherent in Facebook’s built-in semi-inadvertent voyeurism. You, like me, might have a whole category of people you haven’t seen in years but whose statuses appear in your timeline as if you’re best friends. You know they’re on strike or in grad school or expanding their massage practice but you feel weird knowing it, and you’d feel weirder actually commenting, as if you’re peering over their fence and loudly admiring the begonias. Giving them some eyeballs every once in a while could lay the groundwork for more emotionally nuanced button responses in the future: your likes, your loves, your hmms and oofs. Eyeballs might mitigate the need for my final button idea, the “Good Lord, I forgot you were on here” button: two eyebrows flying up in the air.