The Idea of a Dislike Button is Serious

I feel the need to jump into the discussion about Facebook’s proposed “dislike” button. The wisdom of the crowd is probably wrong on this one.


His Royal Zuckness announced that Facebook is working on a Dislike button. Your first reaction might be “finally!” But if that’s how you feel, you’re not thinking this through.

First of all, it’s not going to say “dislike”. As much as that might make sense in your head, it would be a terrible idea. And Facebook knows that.

You can probably sit and think of scenarios when a “dislike” would be an appropriate response — like when a young refugee child dies — and that will make it easy to convince yourself that the button should therefore exist.

But this feature is actually a really delicate thing for Facebook, as a product, as an influencer of more than a billion people, and maybe for the internet.


The original Like Button is everywhere. 

When something is everywhere, we tend to forget how important it is and how much impact it has.

We also forget that many other companies have copied it, because it works. And that happens with a lot of things Facebook does.

Yes, it’s just a feature. Yes, it’s just social media. And yes, it isn’t feeding starving kids, or curing cancer, and there are definitely more important things we could talk about.

I hope you are tweeting and blogging about all of those things right now instead of reading this. But since you’re not, maybe you’ll give me a couple more minutes.


Like buttons are an “everywhere” feature because they tap into a universal, emotional experience.

Quick lesson: Like buttons and Tweet buttons work better than “share” buttons, partly because they translate a motivation directly into a simple action. 

When we feel a strong emotion, we are motivated to act on it.

As a general rule, the simpler the action, the more people will do it.

To “Like” is a feeling that exists here and now, and it is very, very simple, as a concept. Do you like it? Yes = click the button.

To “tweet” is to say something on Twitter. Not as simple as merely “Liking” something, and it requires more interaction than Facebook’s Likes, but still, it is easy to imagine what will happen when you click a button labeled “tweet”.

However, to “share” is a complex idea. It requires other people. The format is unclear. The location is unclear (where will it be shared?). And frankly, it isn’t selfish enough. Liking and Tweeting are both about you. You like. You tweet.

In normal language, “sharing” means helping others by giving them something you have, or telling them something you know. You only benefit from sharing if you look good by sharing, or if it allows you to bond with someone else, etc.

So ask yourself: what motivation would a simple “dislike” button enable?


Sometimes small details radically shift the mechanics of our interactions. And Facebook understands this. 

That’s why they have waited so long to experiment with the “most requested feature”. 

If you knew that people could express disagreement with your political opinions and your beach photos and your jokes and your buzzfeed links… would you still post them? Facebook is already becoming famous as a place where people filter themselves to create the image of a great life. 

Imagine if people start filtering their opinions and statements to make sure nobody “dislikes” their posts! Zzzzz… 

The result will not be a sensitive, inclusive, politically-correct Facebook. It will be the world’s largest source of boring content and a playground for Trolls. It would divide people based on their existing beliefs and punish people for presenting new opinions or alternative perspectives.


Worse: a Dislike Button could reward hate and aggression.

Everybody seems concerned about “downvoting” posts when we don’t like or agree with them, but that isn’t my biggest concern about a Dislike Button.

Upvotes and Downvotes work pretty well when they are designed as a quality-ranking system. When you have a lot of subjective stuff, like links on Reddit or helpful answers on Quora or StackExchange, voting helps bring good stuff to the top.

A Dislike Button on Facebook wouldn’t be like that.

On Facebook, you’re only seeing content from people and pages you have chosen. It’s not a big pile of random stuff that needs to be sorted and 90% of it isn’t random shit from random idiots trying to “game” your feed. 

Think about how motivating it feels to get a lot of Likes. It makes you want to post more things like that, right? Sometimes it’s even exciting!

Now imagine if posting something negative could get you the same result. Dislikes can be used to agree that you hate something too. It could be a tool to help people bond about hate.

That’s dangerous.

Multiplied by a billion users, it could be a catastrophe.

According to the research I have read, people who have negative feelings about something are 7 times more likely to talk about it than people who had a positive experience.

Anger. Revenge. Fear. Hate. Disgust. The dark side of social. 

Imagine if there were 7 negative posts — trying to get “dislikes” of support — for every positive post on Facebook!

Also, you might notice in TechCrunch’s article about the Dislike button, that the comment section is extremely (ironically?) hateful.

Welcome to the internet. Where people will compete to be the biggest asshole, if you let them.


Facebook is not actually going to make the “dislike” button you imagine. Not unless they all get drunk and have a hackathon. 

As TechCrunch said, it will be something more like a “sorry” button, to express sympathy for negative situations. 

Hopefully the UX design will allow users to choose which button they want on their posts… otherwise it will be tempting to click “sorry” on every baby photo I see.

This is one of those times when listening to “requests” from users would actually be a horrible, destructive design choice. But interpreting their requests into the feature they should actually have, could be really interesting.