Facebook introduced “Reactions” late last week and it literally changed the way we will react to anything from hereon. It is a big change, but the classic Facebook feed has seen bigger changes before. While change is always welcome, it does create ruffles in the user community because we, the people – ‘get used to’ things and have to overcome the social inertia every time something changes. Here are some of my first ‘reactions’ to the feature and what it means for the future of our social life -
How does it affect our social life?
Before I start with my critical comments, let me acknowledge that making even a slight change to what 1.6 Billion people can potentially react to, is a huge deal. And this being a much bigger change, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg correctly recognized it as a "surprisingly complicated" endeavor last year (just that I wouldn’t have found it surprising really). Thus recognizing the complexity behind it, I’m not here to judge their move, but I’m just sharing my experiences as a user here.
Okay, now we can start. So, basically with the ‘Reactions’ feature, now you have more options to express yourself. You can not only ‘like’ someone’s post, but ‘Love’, ‘Haha’, ‘Wow’, ‘Sad’, or ‘Angry’ it (That’s not a right sentence grammatically, but so is most of our evolved social media language). The way I look at it is: If you take all the feelings (to posts) that you had and were told to put it (classify) into boxes – You had just one box before, named ‘Like’, and now you have 5 more boxes to fit your feelings in. Yes, it basically compartmentalized your feelings, or as Facebook would say, it helped you better express your feelings.
But on that note, I’ll like to ask two straight questions:
1) Do you want to (classify your feelings)?
2) Who should decide how you should classify your feelings?
Objectively, we don’t have clear answers for any of those, but I can talk about what I feel -
First, if given a choice – I would rather not (classify my feelings on posts). In an increasingly widening social circle, our feeds are full of stuff we aren’t really very close to. But knowing that people we know are having a nice time, it’s easy to take a second, ‘like’ it, and move on. Not anymore. Now, every time you see something and you want to react to it, you’ll have to spend a couple extra seconds thinking about how you actually feel about it, and whether you want to convey that to the reader. And then, the reader will take it in the way they want, and get different meanings out of that. Having known the other person, you’ll have to be careful of that too. See what happened here? A simple social interaction just got complicated. With tons of interactions people do everyday, it just further complicates social life to a level where it’s no longer fun - wasn’t the virtual life supposed to be the good part of life you spend while you aren’t really having fun?
Regarding second question, for good or for the bad - it’s Facebook who gets to decide how many classifications your feelings get to be boxed into. No, it doesn’t get those rights by being a master of psychology, or a democratically elected leader. But it dicates the social order, of which we all are just a part of - I call it VoP (Vote by participation). Till yesterday, it got to decide that no matter how you felt about things, you were only allowed to ‘like’ or ‘not like’ them. Today, it tells you that you are supposed to have 5 more feelings, but not any more than that. And you can only ‘react’ to something that the poster says first (status), not what he or anyone else follows up with (comments). We are still supposed to only ‘like’ comments, no matter if they make us ‘angry’. Why can we only be ‘wow-ed’ by how a conversation starts and never feel the same way about anything that is brought up after (comments)? Isn’t that so unlike real life conversations? Well, that’s the power you bestow to the one whose platform you use, VoP in full effect. He gets to decide how you interact, and has power to change it. To be fair though, there needs to be an order and someone has to make rules anyway (Just like an elected government makes rules, even if you didn’t vote for it. You have to live in the country and follow the laws). Or else, this virtual life will be total chaos.
Interpretation is confusing:
Though the Facebook team told us that the 5 reactions were specifically chosen because users worldwide can relate to those emotions, and which is true; interpretation of them could be anywhere from confusing to really awkward. Take the case of a Facebook post I did, covering the reaction update for example -
It was a critical review post on the reaction feature and it got 20 reactions in total, out of which 2 were ‘angry’ reactions. Now, I wasn’t sure if those 2 people were ‘angry’ on me, or ‘angry’ on the reaction feature, and thus supporting me. Again, we won’t go on tagging all ‘reactive’ people and asking “So hey, what are y’all angry about?”, or “All of you laughing, what’s the joke I’m missing here?”. You’re getting what I’m saying? Its really confusing how the same ‘universally-understood’ reaction gets read.
One reason users wanted the ‘dislike’ feature was to use it as a weapon to deride a group of their friends who have turned into ‘obsessed self-centered social media personalities’ (OSMPs). OSMP’s are ones who use Facebook like a micro-blogging site, post live videos of them walking down the boring roads and them eating a hot dog (or eating anything basically), and are posting mirror-selfies and asking for likes (Captioning it something like “So, how do I look today?”). I know this all might seem odd to you, but if you’re a teenager, or have a son/daughter who is a teenager, you would be aware of the OSMP phenomena. So well, what do we do of them now that we don’t have a dislike button? Personally, I find the ‘Wow’ button most sarcastic of the lot - which conveys something like “Wow really, did you just do that?”. But again the confusion of perception kicks in here. If the poster is an OSMP, do you really expect him to get the sarcasm? No, most probably he wouldn’t get it all the way till you hold a sarcasm sign for it, like Leonard used to do.
Picture source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/9jUp-buwFI0/maxresdefault.jpg
‘Wow’ might be interpreted more of “You look great. Wow” by as OSMP in this case. Emoticons don’t really speak the whole story after all. How much more convenient it would’ve been to just type a sentence and get done away with so many confusions and misinterpretations? But somehow - ‘writing’ anything is becoming old school. Sadly, so. Words are becoming old school. It's a world of abbreviations and emojis.
How often do you see posts quoting a renowned poet and discussing its meaning in our real life situations? Not so often.
How often do you see posts just having a string of comments saying ‘lol’, ‘haha jk’, ‘nvm’ these days? Oh, so often. Well, that’s the kind of community we’re growing into, and we can’t blame Facebook for giving the community what it wants (In the same line of thought, we can’t really blame Donald Trump for being our representative, but then I don’t want to get political here).
Why did Facebook take the risk?
If it really can complicate our social lives (which might not make us feel like using the medium as much), or confuse the communication (which is against the aim of the platform), why is Facebook really taking the risk here, and not just playing safe?
Well, because of couple reasons -
1. It like to ‘move on’:
One of the biggest threat Facebook faces as a social media platform is the ‘sense of boredom’ of its users. If users feel bored, and if there’s nothing ‘new’ to do, they might flock to newer ‘killer apps’. We have seen this recently, with Snapchat, Periscope, and Buzzfeed. Though the latter two might not technically be direct competitors, they have managed to become a ‘sensation’ and take considerable excitement away from Facebook, especially among the teen user base.
Facebook tries to find a way of giving its users what they’re getting out of those other apps, and the race has been evident (Remember Slingshot?). It doesn’t always succeed, but it tries. Now, one common feature all of those three possess, is that it lets users express themselves in different ways. Snapchat now lets you put animated filters and emotions, Periscope lets you ‘heart’ things, and Buzzfeed is well known for its ‘10 reactions’ (yes they called it ‘reactions’ exactly) which are inspired from the millennial lingo.
2. It has bigger plans:
If you knew Facebook’s business model well, you would know by now that all Facebook is interested in is ‘knowing you better’. ~96% of its revenue, that comes off of targeted online advertising, has its moat in better targeting and placement of ads. And Facebook isn’t the only company with that motto, Google is his soul-brother (Silicon valley will take its own time to practice gender-equality, so let’s say this for now). They want to know more about you than your life coach, life partner, or anyone else possibly. That’s how they will place most apt ads for you everytime you see one, and have a better chance at you clicking on them, and thus at it making money off you. Why am I doing a recap of Facebook’s business model here, though? Because ‘Reactions’ potentially has a huge role to play here.
Through Reactions, Facebook will get to know a lot of things about us, as a person. Remember we covered that couple extra seconds of thought that we’ll be putting in before reacting to anything? By noticing how we reacted, Facebook will be able to back-calculate what we were thinking during those 2 seconds. All users compounding their time together, will be a part of a huge Facebook experiment for free, which will let it understand you better. How? A couple examples -
Summing up the reaction:
I totally understand if you don’t like the new feature (any one it may be) and can’t do anything about it. After all, you are a single citizen is in a country of 1.6 Billion people which doesn’t have democracy, and is run by its founder. But you have established your property and businesses (social friends and business pages), that you can’t just run away from the country every time a new law is passed that you don’t agree with. Also, the ruler is often kind and cares about you staying in it (That’s his business, after all). In this case for example, he introduced reactions, but you can still simply go on ‘liking’ posts. It’s not like the like button was taken off and replaced by everything else. So, he in a way has a vested interest in you staying content, and has no reason to divest it anytime soon.
The reason I assumed that users were not happy above was my read-through by seeing how everyone in my feed reacted to it (It might be different in your circle). Even though most are angry, we have seen many such changes before, and I have observed exactly what course the online protesters end up taking:
Day 1: They hate it.
Day 2: They see they're not alone (in hating it) - and they gain steam. They threaten to stop using it and go to Twitter.
Day 3: They see nobody's listening. Next thing, they're checking into the app like they open the fridge.
They always come back. Obsessed.
Now that today is Day 4, be prepared to see people reacting to it much more positively. Also, be prepared to meet people in person and listen to something like “Nice jacket. I saw it yesterday and wow-ed it as well”.
Before we close this chapter, let’s be thoughtful and spare a minute of silence for all who said, “All I needed was a dislike button”.
Closing bonus though: Now, you can be ‘angry’ at a picture of your ex’s wedding. You don’t need to ‘like’ it anymore. (But be prepared of the odd social reception of it)
Let’s turn tables: How did you feel about the ‘Reaction’ feature? What made you like or dislike it? If you were the only user awarded a ‘make or break’ decision of implementing the feature, and making changes to it - what changes would you do to it? Let me know, and in the process we all will know our virtual world a bit better.
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