Thursday, May 10, 2012

4 Arguments Against the Dislike Button

I know it might be an unpopular position to take, but I don’t think Facebook having a Dislike button is a good idea. I know that disliking things is very popular right now, and a good many of my friends really want the chance to dislike things openly. Disliking things is fun, requires zero effort and allows you to put a dent in a reality that you find offensive without getting involved. But that’s sort of why it’s a terrible idea. There is nothing constructive about the Dislike button, and I believe the narcissism already present on the Internet would be only intensified and made destructive if allowed to exist. That is because the desire for the Dislike button comes from the remnant of a primitive brain which seeks to tear down and control the reality of others, and rejects communication, cooperation and respect for other people.

First of all, there is a practical reason why Facebook shouldn’t have a Dislike button, and it’s the same reason why it never will: A Dislike button is bad for business, especially if your business is social networking. Think about it. Why in the name of all things sacred would a business based around the idea of creating and building relationships introduce an element that could only break one down? How soon after they introduce the Dislike button would you see a rapid decline in activity on Facebook? How could a dislike button possibly contribute to a dynamic that is supposed to be all about sharing, and not about division and hate?

Some argue that using a Dislike button to show empathy could build relationships, such as for comments like “I just lost my job,” or “My wife and I are getting a divorce.” But why wouldn’t you rather leave a comment for these types of posts anyway? Why would you clamor for an alternative that allows you to sympathize without actually doing any work? I would sure rather see a comment from a friend as opposed to a bunch of dislikes. Not to mention there have already been suggestions for alternatives, such as a Hug button, to differentiate these sorts of things.

But in the absence of these alternatives, how would Facebook differentiate these types of posts from others that people just don’t like, such as, “That new Katy Perry song is awesome!” If Facebook filters its feed on the basis of how many likes a shared item or status update receives, wouldn’t it just bury the “My dog just died” posts as well? The list of problems goes on.

But let us not forget the other reason it’s bad for business: Sponsors. Imagine you were Coke, and Facebook just announced it was adding a Dislike button. Do you think Facebook would be a good place to advertise after that? I don’t think so.

But in case you think that’s just as well, realize that it applies to ALL businesses, including that concert that you and your band were thinking of creating an event for. Your local mom and pop could get slammed with dislikes, making Facebook no longer a place to network and communicate with its fanbase. Not only would Facebook be hit with a loss in advertising revenue, which would affect how well it operates and whether or not it can expand, but it would make it even harder for smaller businesses to compete.

Again, this is all to say that the Dislike button would do very little to build relationships, but would do everything to break them down.

It is very fortunate for everyone involved that the Dislike button will never become a reality. But why would people keep arguing that it should?

Well the second argument that it shouldn’t is a philosophical one: A Dislike button wouldn’t add more choice, but it would make choosing unpleasant for everyone. People act like they have a fundamental entitlement to a Dislike button, and the fact that they don’t is an affront to their freedom of choice. They want to be able to dislike something, and they can’t, and it’s just not fair. Well this view of choice is very immature, because it reflects a very poor understanding of what choice actually is.

The word “choose” comes from the latin verb gusto, which means “to taste.” It is also the origin of the modern “gusto,” which means enthusiastic enjoyment or pleasure. The action of taking, tasting, eating and enjoying is inherent in the idea of choosing. If you did not enjoy something, then you couldn’t say you chose it. To NOT pick the apple from the tree is NOT a choice. You can’t say, “I chose not to pick that apple.” You could say, however, “I didn’t chose to pick the apple.”

So if you decide not to pick the apple, what is that called, if not a choice? I would call it a rejection. I would even say it is an inaction until you consciously decide not to pick the apple. Once you decide you don’t like the apple, then you move on. But it’s not a choice, it’s a rejection. In other words, there is always a yes involved in choice, because that’s what choice IS. It’s you saying yes to something. Even when you use the word, that’s understood. If you choose red not blue, you don't say,“I choose not blue.” You say “I choose red."

So if you see something come up on your Facebook feed that you don’t like, don’t choose it. And if you really want a Dislike button, you won’t be getting the freedom to choose, you’ll be getting the freedom to reject.

Having said that, it should be clear just how unpleasant it would all become to ACTUALLY choose something in an environment filled with rejection. If something comes up in your feed that you like, but others publicly dislike, your liking it is now an open invitation to be harassed for it. The more dislikes, the more likely you are to get hassled for liking it, making you less inclined to like anything. The repercussions of your decision to like something would always have to be considered when choosing to like something. And that is very sad.

Facebook should be a place where everyone can have the experience they choose to have, to like what they want, even if there’s only one other person that agrees with them. You don’t get to decide that for them, even if you know they’re crazy.

That leads me to the sociological argument: When it is known how unpopular a thing is, the quality of the discourse diminishes. This seems like a no-brainer. Think about how kids react to knowledge that a certain kid is unpopular. All they need is a little bit of encouragement and they turn into monsters. Many of them are good kids, actually, but if lead by the hand and given the ok, they will go along with all of the awful things the truly awful kids are doing.

We like to think that we are not like them, that we are grown adults. But we are kidding ourselves if we think that’s the case. Think about every alliance that formed in your workplace between those looking for a scapegoat and those few whipping boys who actually pull their weight. Think of all the gossip magazines we read and all the popular TV shows where we all get to watch a family fall apart. We enjoy it because we know that millions of other people are watching it too, and so its ok. But imagine a world in which watching “Hoarders” made you more deplorable than its own subjects. Imagine if you didn’t have the support you needed in the dislike of celebrities and politicians. What would you do?

You would make your case, that’s what you would do. You would have to do so intelligently, coherently, concisely and passionately. This is what happens on discussion boards and forums where the article or subject did not include a like or dislike button.

If you do not know how many people are on your side, you are more inclined to form your own opinion, or abstain when you feel you are lacking in the knowledge with which to comment.

To be fair, this argument is true for the Like button as well, since the popularity of an idea often carries the ethos of credibility. But undoing the damage of a bad idea with a lot of Likes is as simple as posting a link in the comments section. Undoing the damage of a good idea with a gazillion Dislikes is close to impossible. Plus, in most cases, there is no harm done by clicking Like.

 If you are reading this and you really want to help create a better world both on- and offline, then the final argument should matter a lot to you: The absence of a Dislike button is Facebook’s version of “innocent until proven guilty,” and that’s a very good thing. This is the moral argument, and I’m not sure that many of the people I talk to about the Dislike button are aware of this.

I think the Dislike button represents something in all of us that needs to die out. It is the power to destroy, motivated by the desire to control the reality of others.

It is much bigger than simply being able to say, “I really don’t like lolcats.” It is as if you think that every piece of media that passes before your eyes begs the question, “Do you think this should exist?” People have been exposed to so many things that they don’t like, they just really want the chance to make it go away, and they feel like they ought to have a right to do so.

The Dislike button at least gives you the gratification of saying, “No.” You don’t even have to be personally involved in the thing you don’t like, you don’t have to think about it for very long, and beyond that you can just let your gut tell you if it's good or not. No regard needs to be paid to the person who made it, or the others who like it.

But here’s the thing: It still exists. You are not going to get rid of something in cyberspace just by disliking it.

Maybe you think, “People will stop making this sort of thing if enough people dislike it, and that is alright with me.” Not only is this an unrealistic assumption, it once again demonstrates your desire to control the reality of others. What is actually happening is people are connecting to one another by an experience, and you are trying to destroy it for them. It is not your experience, but you don’t care because you don’t think it was fair that you were exposed to it in the first place. Well I say you need to grow up, if that’s what you think.

To be clear, I’m not saying that actually disliking something is wrong, and I’m certainly not saying that making a comment to that effect is bad. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. Your efforts to voice your displeasure should be one-to-one and co-operative, not top-down and authoritative. The Dislike button is a replacement for conversation, and it contains no insight, criticism or respect for the content's creator.

Part of that conversation that MUST be present is evidence. If you are displeased with something and voicing your displeasure in the form of a Dislike could have a very negative impact on the content’s creator, you should be required to explain yourself. You should not be allowed to take an action like Disliking a video without having to – or at least being able to – defend it.

This is crucial for building a better world for all of us. Only in the last few hundred years did we learn a very important moral lesson which has helped us become better people. One of the core principles of Western philosophy is the idea that a person’s guilt should never be assumed, and that everyone has the right to defend themselves. You shouldn’t be able to send me to the chair just by pointing your finger at me, and I should never be able to do the same to you.

This is such a profound ethical achievement on humanity’s part, and we’ve come too far in our real life to allow this idea to die out in our digital world. Once it disappears online, we will see it less and less in the real world. We will go back to the way things used to be decided: By tyranny, where a totalitarian ruler decides. or by mob rule, in which an individual is defenseless against the many.

We are already seeing it now with every major criminal case, from Gabby Giffords to Treyvon Martin. Everyone has an opinion, but nobody knows the facts. And nobody cares that they don't have the facts.

The argument doesn’t even have to be that big. Think about it on a personal level: How would you tell someone to their face that you don’t like what they’ve made? I suppose a few of you reading this might actually be just as blunt in real life. But even if you are, wouldn’t you then include your reasons or would you just say, “It sucks,” and leave it at that?

I suspect most of you would either lie and say you liked it, or you would try to find a nice way to say it. You might even re-examine your dislike and find that it’s not that bad after all. There are many reasons why a Dislike button eliminates avenues of communication that would lead to relationship-building, but instead it drives a wedge between two people who are potentially very much alike.

If nobody likes something, it won’t get shared and it won’t last long. The Dislike button is not necessary, and it will introduce much harm to a world that is just starting to get built. There are so many problems in the world, and we can’t let it fall apart just because we’ve introduced a relationship-destroying element into our community. There is no content that is so Disliked that it can’t either be debated with or flagged. As human beings, we should be wanting to like and create, not finding things to dislike and destroy.  

 If you would like to hear more about this from others, I would recommend this guy, who has a lot to say about it. I would really like to know what your thoughts are on the subject, so please leave a comment!