It’s a breeze to be “social” on Facebook. When a friend’s birthday announcement pops up on your feed, all you have to do is click the “Like” button and you're free from the obligatory phone call. Just by hitting “Like,” your love and affection is inferred and you’ve fulfilled your social duty, all the while left feeling “connected” (however fleeting that may be).
But what about when a friend posts something off-putting? You would arguably have to become a martyr to comment negatively on a friend’s post. But not for long.
Mark Zuckerberg just announced that Facebook will be rolling out emojis as reaction icons (currently in testing phase), which include emotions from surprise to anger. According to clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, it’s about time Facebook offered other ways to show emotions.
“In many ways, Facebook is more insincere than a politician at a pig roast. It is an efficient way to share information, but not to actually engage in connected human contact,” says Durvasula.
While certain emoticons will have its drawbacks (there is nothing meaner than an online bully), it will give users an opportunity to express more than one emotion—a big miss in a whole world full of humans interacting online.
“There is a sort of creepy Pollyannaish, Stepfordy feel to the ability to only ‘like’ something on Facebook. Sometimes, people post bad news, fears, concerns or even news pieces we do not agree with,” Durvasula tells LivingHealthy. “Instead of the ‘Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind’ (with occasional drunken rants) that is typically Facebook—it allows for some ability to valence an opinion on a post.”
A sad face emoticon, for example, will enable users to show unspoken emotions such as empathy. If someone posts they just got robbed, instead of just acknowledging their post, which is often how people use the ‘Like’ button, you can actually announce your mutual vengeance against the robber.
And as the new feature opens the floodgates for an emoticon frenzy, it will likely cause a shift for Facebook’s brand. Facebook has long been viewed as a safe, positive and happy place for users, but having the emoticons could change that. "We need to figure out the right way to do it so it ends up being a force for good, not a force for bad," Zuckerberg said at a public forum last year. And a force for good will be left up to interpretation.
Durvasula acknowledges the emoticons are a step in the right direction in that Facebook delivers our social news in which we can follow up with phone calls or visits (if people actually do that). But it doesn’t replace the large and growing connection gap that exists in social media.
“I understand what Facebook is trying to do—and it makes sense, but it is not a substitute,” says Durvasula. “…most people will think a ‘like’ with an emoji on top of it is the same as ‘being there.’ It's not—and don't confuse the two.”