Could Facebook's new 'dislike' button lead to more cyber-bullying?

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says the planned feature would be a way for users to show empathy ...
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Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says the planned feature would be a way for users to show empathy for sensitive posts.

Facebook has confirmed it is looking at a "dislike" button – raising fears that more users could find themselves unwittingly exposed to peer disapproval or cyber-bullying.

The social network's "like" button was introduced for user comments in 2009, but many among its 1.5 billion users have complained that "like" is not a suitable expression for certain status updates and situations, such as family crises or deaths.

Facebook has until now resisted creating a "dislike" button as a companion, fearing it might sow seeds of discontent.

Thumbs down: It's the best of times and the worst of times for Facebook.
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Thumbs down: It's the best of times and the worst of times for Facebook.

However, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced on Wednesday that it was close to unveiling a "thumbs down" or "unlike" button, which would be a way for users to show empathy for sensitive posts.

READ MORE: Zuckerburg's live tour of Facebook HQ

In New Zealand, social psychologist Niki Harre said she feared the new feature could be open to even more misinterpretation by users.

The existing "like" button was "moderately innocuous", but a "dislike" feature could turn out to be "very ambiguous".

"It could be an attempt to support the post, or a more nuanced attempt to show sympathy."

It could end up making users more cautious about posting anything, as they would become more vulnerable to peer disapproval, she said.

Online safety chief Martin Cocker, executive director of NetSafe, said he thought it unlikely the new feature would create a new generation of cyberbullies.

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"Bullies will be bullies with whatever tools you give them."

It was hard to tell how the feature might pan out, as Facebook had not given details about whether it would be used in tandem with "liking" or with distinct "like" and "dislike" buttons, he said.

If it was a choice between "like" or "dislike", then users could potentially "downvote" or "upvote" posts, as was the case on YouTube.

There was no link between increased cyberbullying on YouTube because of the downvoting/upvoting feature, he said. 

"Clicking 'like' on a sensitive post can be uncomfortable, so a 'dislike' button could even reduce the possibility of bullying."

Zuckerberg said Facebook had realised people were not looking to downvote each other, but to have an option to express feelings other than "liking."

Only last year, he expressed caution about such a move, saying: "Some people have asked for a dislike button because they want to say, 'That thing isn't good.' 

"And that's not something that we think is good for the world. So we're not going to build that."

On Wednesday, he said Facebook had been working on the idea for a while, and hoped to launch it soon.

"It's surprisingly complicated to make an interaction that will be simple."

 - Stuff

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