Facebook’s “Sympathy” for the Newsfeed

Who knows what buttons could eventually end up in Facebook’s newsfeed?

For anyone who ever read a Facebook posting in which a friend recounted a traumatic event—a family funeral, for instance, or a bad breakup—and debated whether clicking “Like” would be construed as a gesture of sympathy or merely crassness, help could soon arrive in the form of a “Sympathize” button.

A Facebook engineer recently crafted the “Sympathize” button during one of the company’s regular hackathons, in which in-house employees try to create new features or improve backend processes in a limited amount of time. In the new button’s schema, if a user decides to tag the posting with an emotion such as “depressed,” that will trigger the “Like” button’s transformation to a politer “Sympathize.”

News of the potential new button appeared on The Huffington Post, which learned about it from another engineer, Dan Muriello, who was present at that portentous hackathon. “It would be, ‘five people sympathize with this,’ instead of ‘five people ‘like’ this,” he told the Website. “Which of course a lot of people were—and still are—very excited about. But we made a decision that it was not exactly the right time to launch that product. Yet.”

That’s no guarantee that Facebook will eventually implement such measures, and the social network could be watching to see how the public reacts to the not-so-subtly-leaked idea before deciding whether to move forward. (For its part, The Huffington Post points out that the “Like” button was itself a hackathon invention.) Some early signs aren’t very encouraging: a columnist with the Telegraph, for example, stated in no uncertain terms that “Facebook’s ‘sympathize button makes me want to vomit,” mostly because it could encourage people to flood their respective newsfeeds with “sob stories” and “misery statuses” in a bid for attention.

On the other hand, more choice in buttons would help remove some of the awkwardness that comes with only having a “Like” button to wordlessly comment on life’s ups and downs, and that could ultimately prove a good thing for many people.

Now when’s the “Dislike” button coming? Because a lot of people want that.

 

Image: Harish Marnad/Shutterstock.com

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