Don’t “like” this

23 May

I’m not the first person to note that maybe we need something more than a “like” button on Facebook. There are campaigns for this sort of thing! But I was reminded of how inappropriate it is this morning when a friend of mine posted about the devastation in her hometown of Joplin. And someone (I shit you not!) “liked” it. Not the destruction itself, presumably. Perhaps this was in response to my friend saying that her family is safe and accounted for, or that we should keep the people of Joplin in our thoughts. Still. Does “like” make sense in that context?

You know what would be even worse? A “dislike” button. “Dislike”-ing a status would be just as shallow but with the added offense of mimicking support. I’m horrified by what has happened to Joplin—doesn’t mean I need a button of any kind to express that. I don’t think any of us do. What bothers me about Facebook “like”-ing is that it’s made us lazier than ever. Clicking a button is one of the easiest things you can do, and in nanosecond, you’ve made something resembling a statement.

I’m not advocating for the abolition of the “like” button, because that’s silly. And it definitely has its purpose. If I read a funny status update or see a particularly shitfaced picture, I’m liable to “like” it. On a larger scale, however, I recognize how insipid this is. I’ve seen people on Facebook “like” articles about convicted murders being sentenced to death, break-ups (maybe the relationship was unhealthy?), and job changes. Surely there is more to it than a thumbs up. “Like”-ing is a half-assed way to say, “I saw this. I get it.” How is that ever enough?

It’s not the only lazy thing we do on Facebook. Birthday wall posts are almost as silly, although given how few people remember to actually call on birthdays, I guess they’re better than radio silence. But nothing on Facebook makes me more livid than someone changing his or her status/profile picture for a cause. The term for this is “slacktivism,” and I really wish I’d coined it. (I fucking love portmanteaus.) Again, I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but I think that Facebook slacktivism is more harmful than we give it credit for. It’s not only annoying—it’s damaging to the way we think and act.

I think we all look for easy outs, and “like”-ing a status or changing your profile pic is an all-too-simple way to delude yourself. I know it’s not necessarily a “one or the other deal”—you could change your picture to a cartoon character from your youth to combat child abuse (seriously, what?) and still donate money to the appropriate charities. I just don’t think that’s the norm. There is something so smarmy and self-congratulatory about all of these meaningless acts: “If you really cared about gay marriage, you would change your Facebook status for an hour. I did.” That allows people to take a step back and admire their own “effort.” Give yourself a pat on the back. You ended hatred. I “like” this!

To be fair, the other side of this is texting for disaster relief. Texting is lazy as shit, too—you type some numbers into your phone and bam, money donated. But I can’t really crap on that, because hey, at least you’re doing something. Given that I’m not exactly the most proactive person myself (hold your gasps, assholes), I can appreciate the ability to do something without breaking a sweat. But what you’re doing has to have some value past words, words, words. (He says, as he’s blogging.)

Slacktivism aside, I’m also just bummed at the way “like” has halted so many conversations. And I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that another button would somehow solve that problem. It’s like those news stories with words you can click on the side—is the story “gross” or “sad” or “WTF”? God knows the ability to choose from those hasn’t halted internet commenters, but it’s still so obnoxiously reductive. Why even give people the option of limiting their response to a one-word reaction? As far as I’m concerned, saying nothing at all is preferable to clicking a button.

But while you’re here, feel free to click the “OMG that is SO true” button at the bottom of this page. (Right??)

5 Responses to “Don’t “like” this”

  1. Mac May 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I was going to just “like” this and get on with my day, but I was shamed into actually making more of an effort.

    I just subscribed, too. Does that count as the beginnings of a tech-based “dialogue”? Hmm.

  2. Rylan May 24, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    I try to use the “like” button on Facebook as a substitute for a form of subtle but observable real world feedback, something akin to a head nod or laugh so as to let the poster know that they’re not communicating into a vacuum. However, I would wager that the “like” button was developed solely to measure the occurrence and frequency of relationship connections with the intent of using the information for demographic modeling, and thus was, in a sense, intended to both foster and capitalize on laziness by creating an imaginary sense of action and accomplishment. To say nothing of Facebook using it as a means of filtering contrary people or opinions so as to “heighten” the user experience. Anyway, great post.

  3. Mark May 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    It’s strange. Every so often those wacky Japanese will invent something like a vest that can hug you when someone far away presses a button, and people in the west think that’s weird and creepy. But that’s exactly what the Facebook “like” button is doing, giving people a plastic sense of comfort via a button click. One quick comment on my blog is worth a thousand “likes” to me, even if it’s just “Nice!”. I hate that we can spend all day feeling like we’ve interacted with friends when all we’ve done is click buttons like adorable little lab monkeys. Anyway, I like your post.

  4. aly May 26, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    last october i posted this on facebook: when people “like” status updates that deliver bad news, what exactly is happening? is it a statement of empathy or just some sort of terrible compulsion to click a button that says “hey look at me, i read that shit!”

    you were much more eloquent and thorough than i was or could be. today a friend of mine posted that his grandmother died and a brief tribute to her. six people liked it. if this is the new netiquette, i refuse to take part.

  5. blacklisted May 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    I tried to find the “OMG that is SO true” button but I couldn’t, where is it please?

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