I'm a hater. I hate pictures of frolicking kittens, viral messages that ask you to "Press 'like' if you're against cancer!" and humble-bragging. You might think that this would make me particularly receptive to Facebook's upcoming "dislike" button, which Mark Zuckerberg announced was in the works just this week — but you'd then be wrong. In fact, I hate it. And I expect it will be a disaster.
I admit that the idea has merit. When I peruse my Facebook feed, I often find doom-filled and utterly non-"like" appropriate statuses ("Mom took a turn for the worse today"; "Exhausted! This kid just WON'T sleep."), which I want to support but can't without leaving a comment. I refuse to type a hackneyed "Unlike!" or "Where's the dislike button?" but it's hard to find the right empathetic words when friends post genuinely grim stuff. So some kind of quick and painless, one-click-covers-all — we don't know exactly the form it will take yet — would be quite handy.
But what Zuckerberg misses is that we haters are a picky bunch. You can like just about anything, but disliking is about discernment.
Giving Facebookers a single icon that allows them to dislike a status, yet doesn't let users scale or tweak their negativity to fit the occasion, won't work. Will a casual "dislike" really act as a virtual hug when a friend posts about having to put down the family dog? Unlikely. And how will that same pooch euthanizer feel when they see that you've also employed the "thumbs down" button (one rumored incarnation) a minute later for a friend who merely lost her keys?
The real disaster that lurks just round the bend, however, is the potential to be subtly and devastatingly malicious. For instance, what if you want to dislike something in an utterly non-empathetic way? Food photos come to minds, as do profile updates that seek sycophantic reassurance about the poster's looks. Will you be able to resist abusing a button that lets you vent your irritation with such ease?
And really, what good can come from this? By giving people an outlet for the thoughts, feelings, and intellectual failings they'd have once kept to themselves, Facebook has already helped millions refine their ability to annoy their fellow humans. In response, we've all had to massively up our tolerance of the over-share. A "dislike" button, with its inherent simplicity, could result in many of us offending our friends.
And just imagine the fallout for anyone with an open profile. It's a whole new tool for trolls, or the people who simply don't get that, unless you're going to be nice, you shouldn't really pass judgment on the statuses of strangers. That's what Twitter is for.
Then, there are the FB jesters who will attempt to use "dislike" jokingly and suffer a public backlash. Try being the misguided comedian who, perhaps a tad rankled by the saccharine tone, thinks that clicking "dislike" on, "Married the most beautiful girl in the world!" is a suitable gag.
Businesses will hate it too. The idea that customers visiting their Facebook page will now be able to register antipathy so easily — and in a way that's instantly understood by other users — must be sending shudders through boardrooms.
But this is just for haters, you think. Fair enough. But imagine this: You're casually perusing your friend's wedding update and you accidently press "dislike." (Presumably, "dislike" will sit innocently enough next to the trusty "like" button.) This could be awkward and, if not quickly remedied, fatal for friendships.
Perhaps it's hyperbolic to suggest scrapping the "dislike" button entirely. Maybe the solution is to let users disable it for their own statuses. Otherwise, you're giving Facebookers permission to get their passive-aggressive hate on more than ever before.