Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it would be rolling out the feature we’ve all been waiting for since we first created our profiles back in middle school: the long-awaited ‘dislike’ button. However, it's decided to take it one step further, instead implementing an entire set of alternatives to the old ‘like’ with a lineup of ‘reactions’ emojis—and it’s posing a compelling argument for the significance of online empathy.
Released for preliminary testing in Ireland and Spain two weeks ago, these reactions give Facebook users the unique option to go beyond ‘liking’ their friends’ posts, instead presenting them with a new range of options—including a heart, a laughing emoji, and a sad emoji. The idea is that users will click the sad face when they see a sad post, or click the surprised face when a post particularly wows them. In reality, these reactions diminish the human realness of empathy and denote our obsession with making sure the world sees how much we care.
To the avid Facebook user, this seems like a natural next step for the progression of the website. For much too long we’ve wondered whether it’s appropriate to ‘like’ a sad or angry post—enter the new reactions emojis as our saving grace, providing us with that next level of empathy we’ve been craving. Now, we can show the world our agreement (or lack thereof) with nothing more than a click on a little angry emoji. Problem solved—right?
The dilemma that this feature poses is evident; now that we have the option to empathize at a new level of narcissism, how much value can we even place on the emotions we express online? How could an emoji ever really help bridge this gap between the real world and the virtual world? By clicking a sad face on a post about a friend’s announcement that she just bombed her midterms—in lieu of, say, a comment, a text or phone call, or even a face-to-face interaction—we devalue our emotions to nothing more than emojis.
In a way, the situation is similar to the ongoing question of the significance of service on BC’s campus. It’s no secret that, as a Jesuit Catholic university, Boston College is all about community service, and this passion extends into the general student population. However, with service having such an overarching presence on campus, we have to wonder when we cross the line of doing service to benefit the common good and doing service because it’s the thing to do.
Now, take the new Facebook reactions; a user may very well click a sad face on a post because its content genuinely makes him sad, but there’s also a pretty good chance that he’s doing it to show the world just how sad he really is. There’s no malicious intent in this exchange, of course—it’s human nature to be influenced by how our peers view the things we do. However, Facebook is taking its place as an enabler of this behavior with its new breed of online emotional expression.
As of right now, there is no set date for the global rollout of this feature, but there are some benefits it proposes in a more mechanistic sense. For instance, Facebook hopes to optimize its users’ feeds with more content that they’ll be interested in based on what they react to with which emojis. Businesses, especially, are sure to reap the benefits of this new method that more accurately gauges how their customers feel.
For the rest of us, however, it’s not so simple. Now, we have a newfound duty to preserve the value of our emotions as they become ever so trivialized in the digital realm. So, when you find yourself clicking ‘like’ or ‘love’ or even a laughing emoji on your future Facebook scrolling sprees, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons—for the sake of empathy.