So a lot has been made lately of Facebook putting an overly positive spin on things, shifting our perspective and making us seem and act happier than we actually are.

I think this is true, but largely for a much simpler reason than people are saying. It’s because of the “Like” button.

LikeButton

Here’s the thing. We like likes. They make us feel affirmed. They make us think that people are out there in the void, listening, taking us seriously. Most importantly, they bridge the divide of desperately lonely souls, making us feel that others empathize with our experience.

As such, consciously or no, we construct our posts on Facebook to cultivate likes. And thus we are uncomfortable posting anything phrased in such a way that someone would be hesitant to “like” it. If it would seem wrong or sick or weird or sad to like something, we alter the phrasing to be positive or silver-lining-y enough to gather likes.

I noticed this mostly when reading posts about people dying. People discuss the deaths of their loved ones, friends, people in Israel or Gaza, and they were gathering likes! This seems wrong, right? Who likes someone else’s beloved or cared-for dying? Isn’t that horrible?

But time and again, I would notice that people would find a Polyannaish closing thought or silver lining or positive little thing to say that would make a like not only un-reprehensible, but actually the appropriate response.

I don’t know what the fix is. Certainly a Dislike button would increase Facebook’s death toll decently and make it a far less pleasant and more ostracizing place to be. But I almost think there should be an “I Feel This” button that can express empathy or support without actually feeling positive about the sentiment expressed. Because that enables a full range of real human emotions, not just the parts of ourselves that are most obviously likable.

Cross-posted (of course) on Facebook.