December 22, 2013

A Sympathize Button: The Next Thing for Facebook?

We’ve all experienced something like this:

An acquaintance posts on Facebook how she recently got clean from an alcohol addiction.  52 likes.

A cousin posts that his dog is lost.  23 likes.

A former classmate posts that she is simply having a shitty, depressed day.  48 likes.

A friend posts that her grandma died.  40 likes.

In these cases, clicking “like” is not so much about liking the comment as acknowledging it—saying I hear you.

Most social-network savvy people understand that, but it’s still awkward at best and displays the limited ability of expressing complex emotion by using the shortcuts offered on social network sites like Facebook.

Enter:  Facebook’s Compassion Research Day.

Here, researchers, engineers and user-experience folks both from within Facebook and from heavily credentialed research institutions such as Yale, Berkeley, Claremont McKenna and Stanford, gathered along with anyone who is interested at the Facebook campus, to hear “Everything we’ve learned in the last year about what happens when you apply the science of how people relate to each other to social technology.”

At this gathering, the topic of adding a sympathize button to Facebook was discussed.

As reported first by Huffington Post:

During a Facebook hackathon—a chance for staffers to brainstorm new ideas for site features—held “a little while back,” an engineer devised a “sympathize” button that would accompany gloomier status updates, according to Dan Muriello, a different Facebook engineer. If someone selected a negative emotion like “sad” or “depressed” from Facebook’s fixed list of feelings, the “like” button would be relabeled “sympathize.”

According to online reporter Moya Watson, “Facebook wants to help people relate to each other. In this Facebook, you, your kids and your grand-kids, would be able to learn to become emotionally intelligent.

I am tempted to say something trite here, like, don’t we teach our kids to become emotionally intelligent by having real conversations, while looking each other in the eye? Then we can weather the challenges that come from uncomfortable discussions or relish those interactions that are pure, un-manufactured personal connection.

But, alas, social networking is happening (I do it). This is the world we live in.

This is the future of how we relate to each other.  And if I want to be realistic, I need to acknowledge that in 10 years my daughter will be a teenager and navigating the world of social networking on her own. (I will interject here that I am so thankful Facebook was not available to me during my teens to stalk, obsess and compare via social networking.)

So, yes. If this is the direction we are headed, I think a sympathize button is a starting point.

I hear you.

Then perhaps it can be followed up later, when you are home for the night and the kids are asleep, by a quick phone call to see if your cousin ever found his dog or if your friend needs to talk about her grandma.

I guarantee a moment of personal connection will be time well spent.


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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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