Edit (1131a, Nov. 6): Hey, guess what? Now you can. Thanks, Internet, for making it even easier to be a jerk.
A few of my Facebook friends have joined the screamily titled group “PETITION FOR FACEBOOK TO INSTALL A DISLIKE BUTTON…NEED 4,000,000 MEMBERS ASAP..INVITE EVERYONE YOU KNOW TO JOIN.” Facebook, as you probably know, has the option not only to post a status update and to comment on those updates (and other comments), but to “like” an update. There’s a little thumbs up icon underneath any update, and you can click the adorable little hand (it’s even got a cuff!) to visibly “like” what you see.
Facebook added the “like” button in early 2009. I dimly remembered this but wasn’t certain, and a quick search not only confirmed this (via cnet.com) but revealed that the feature was actually pillaged from FriendFeed. I have never heard of FriendFeed, but a bug on their site advertises its ability to connect with Facebook, so they seem like good sports.
When you “like” something on Facebook, the site name checks your likingness – “Abe Vigoda likes this,” for example – so there’s none of that questionable anonymous liking going on that you see in Third World countries. You can also “unlike” something, which allows you to retract that previously granted approval (“You know, now that I think of it, I’m not so crazy about your kid’s birthday after all.”) This is reasonable – people’s minds change.
To “dislike,” however, is potentially a very different thing. Some people currently rock a jury-rigged dislike, posting “dislike” as a comment like in the olden days. This has largely taken civil, even supportive, form. A friend recently posted that her daughter may have picked up Swine Flu, and several people “disliked” away – “No, I do not like your child’s illness!” Fine. A few Sundays back, I posted that it looked like the Steelers were gonna blow it, and received several “dislikes.” Also fine, considering the casual level of talk (but for the record, they DID blow it).
So sure, “disliking” exists in a DIY form already. Make it a button, though, and I think you’re asking for trouble. On Facebook, like all social media, we’ve got a choice of who we associate with. I still haven’t friended one guy who was a particular jackass in high school – and that’s my damn prerogative – but generally I keep the door open. And it turns out, not all the people I’ve ever known agree with me about everything! Now here, I’ve got three choices: I can defriend these people and never have to hear their opinions again; I can read, roll my eyes, and move on; or I can engage and discuss.
Notice those options don’t include going “Thbbbpt!” Even if that’s what I’m thinking. Right now, offended users have to react using actual words, and even if those words are irrational, stupid, or ALL IN CAPS, the user needs to choose ’em. I’m not saying Internet discourse is the pinnacle of human communication, but do we really need to de-brain the process farther? Is our time so valuable that we need a way to register our dislike without words, however incoherent those words might be?
A “dislike” button isn’t going to shatter civilization, but subtracting a level of thought from the act of disagreement isn’t doing anyone any favors. You SHOULD be held to a higher standard when you criticize or disagree with another. We automate a lot of communication today, and there’s a lot of potential there for streamlining and sharpening thought. But don’t let’s give up the responsibility to explain where we’re coming from.