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Facebook wants to feed your anger

yodel header

Facebook wants to feed your anger

If you’ve used Facebook in the last week or so, you will have noticed that the social media site is now letting us do more than just ‘like’ content. We now have five other emotions we can express, thanks to Facebook’s new Reactions buttons.

FB Reactions

People have long sarcastically said “there should be a ‘dislike’ button on Facebook”. They may be referring to spammy adverts, or just people they know who are permanently gloating, seeking attention or otherwise rubbing them up the wrong way. The idea in their minds is that it would be great if there was a way you could tell both them and Facebook that you’re sick of their drivel with just one emoji, and that eventually both the social media site and the user in question will get the message and learn that you don’t want to see it.

Now, you can indeed indicate that you are ‘Sad’ at what’s cropping up on your newsfeed, but if you think that means Facebook is going to understand what you don’t like and stop showing it to you, you’re quite mistaken. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll actually start seeing more of it.

Why oh why would Facebook want to anger me?

The Reaction buttons allow you to respond to posts with Like, Love, Sad, Wow, Haha and Angry, and I have a feeling it’s the last of these that’s going to cause the most confusion and, ironically, anger, because a lot of people are going to misunderstand its purpose.

For example, let’s imagine that you really don’t like Piers Morgan. Everything he says and does on Facebook just gets you really, well, angry. So you respond to his posts with the new ‘Angry’ button to tell Piers Morgan that he’s annoying you, and in turn Facebook will understand that he grates your cheese and will leave him off your newsfeed, won’t it?

Actually, all Facebook will see is that you’re interacting with Piers Morgan, in just the same way that ‘liking’ his posts does, and will assume that you want to keep doing this. By expressing your anger at Morgan, you’re unwittingly providing him with a more ‘engaged with’ Facebook page, and thereby helping him become a bigger social media force.

Thinking about it, it’s kind of a sad reflection of these ‘any publicity is good publicity’ times that whether something makes us laugh or cry, become surprised or enraged, or feel love or hatred, Facebook simply thinks we want to see more of it. It fits in quite nicely with the agendas of shock merchants like Katie Hopkins, who has built a career out of saying things that irritate people, and even the rise of the popularist ‘politics’ of U.S. billionaire and presidential candidate Donald Trump.

It also raises the question of whether there is merit in Facebook accounts and perhaps even businesses trying to be annoying or shocking, and whether businesses might be able to benefit from Facebook users displaying annoyance at their rivals. For example, as Facebook’s algorithms develop, will they learn that people who express anger at McDonalds might prefer Burger King, or that people who get angry at Liverpool winning a match might be Everton or Manchester United fans?

How should the Angry button be used?

It seems that in order to allow Facebook’s algorithms to assess your emotions in the way you want them to, you always have to use these Reaction buttons in sympathy with the Facebook user, not in conflict with them.

The two below examples show how what the user thinks and how Facebook’s algorithms assess it could be at odds with each other:

Piers Morgan posts: “I just fell over and landed in a puddle.”
Joe Bloggs thinks: “Piers Morgan is a jerk, that serves him right and makes me laugh. I’ll reply with Haha.”
Facebook thinks: “Joe Bloggs thinks Piers Morgan is funny. I’ll make sure he sees more of Piers Morgan’s posts.”

Piers Morgan posts: “I see Bradley Wiggins isn’t singing the National Anthem again, He’s a disgrace.”
Joe Bloggs thinks: “Shut up, Piers Morgan! You’re in no position to call anyone ‘a disgrace’ and you’re making me angry. I’ll reply with Angry.”
Facebook thinks: Joe Bloggs shares the anger expressed by Piers Morgan, and clearly they’re kindred spirits. I’ll make sure he sees more of Piers Morgan’s posts.”

In essence, any Reaction button used to show resentment to a poster is just ‘fuelling the fire’. The intended use of the buttons, as far as Facebook is concerned, seems to be to express support for a post at a time when ‘like’ might not be appropriate. For example, somebody might be posting that they’ve just missed the bus, that someone has been rude to them, or that they think a certain politician has said something ridiculous. In these cases, responding with Angry would show that you are acknowledging their anger and sharing it yourself. In short, you should only use it in support of people you like and want to keep hearing from.

I’m still angry, what should I do about this?

If what you’re seeing on Facebook is angering or depressing you to the extent that you don’t want to see it, it’s best to ignore the Reactions buttons and do one of the following, all of which can be performed by clicking the downward-pointing chevron to the right of the Facebook user’s name:

1. Select ‘Hide Post’. This will make the post disappear from your newsfeed, and you can follow it up by choosing to see fewer posts from the perpetrator.
2. ‘Unfollow’ the person or business that posted it. That means that you stay ‘friends’, but further posts from the individual will not appear in your newsfeed.
3. If you believe that the post is offensive, spam or anything else in breach of Facebook’s Community Standards, you can report it. As we mentioned recently though, Facebook sometimes has a bit of an oddball way of deciding what is and isn’t acceptable.

So, ‘report, don’t retort’ is the moral here, it would seem. Unless you actually like to see things that anger and sadden you, perhaps the old parental advice of ‘don’t retaliate’, ‘ignore them’ and ‘tell the teacher’ are as relevant today as they ever were.

John Murray

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