Facebook Considers Sympathize Button

Facebook has come up with the idea of a “sympathize” button. If adopted, it would replace the “like” feature in appropriate situations.

The reasoning behind making the change is that users often feel awkward when they respond to a post bringing bad news such as suffering a bereavement, losing a job or a big event falling through.

While there’s always the option to, you know, write some words (or even contact the person outside of Facebook), the “Like” button is an easy way to respond to such a post, but it can be awkward. Make a post announcing the loss of a loved one and it will pretty soon be accompanied by the news that “34 people like this” followed by a half dozen convoluted posts explaining “I don’t actually ‘like’ this, I just, well…”

The current form of the idea isn’t to have users make a choice of what button to press. Instead it would depend on whether the original poster chose to use an existing feature that allows you to tag a post with an emotion. If they picked a negative emotion, the “Like” option would automatically become “Sympathize.”

That might limit its effectiveness, however. It’s likely most people posting sad news won’t really be paying much attention to the need to correctly categorize a post by picking the right option from a list of categories to describe their emotional state. (It’s also somewhat worrying to imagine how Facebook advertisers might be interested in knowing when somebody is sad or depressed.)

As things stand, the idea isn’t scheduled to become a reality. It was conceived at a recent hackathon event where Facebook staff are encouraged to come up with ideas without having to worry about fully fleshing them out or making sure they work. The idea was then discussed again at Facebook’s annual “Compassion Research Day” in which it concentrates specifically on addressing the usability of the site from a social rather than technical perspective.

Some ideas from previous such events have been adopted on Facebook, including the “Like” button itself. The chances are that news of the “Sympathize” button getting into the public domain is an attempt to gauge public reaction.

Facebook still appears adamant that it won’t ever introduce a “dislike” button, which appears to be because it doesn’t want to do anything that could lead to people ditching friends on the site and thus cutting the opportunity for “social proof” advertising.

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