A ‘Dislike’ Button on Facebook Will Only Encourage More Slacktivism


When we first started going out, Himself taught me a bit of TS Eliot I didn’t know: “Throw your arms around me – Aint you glad you found me.” I’ve always loved that line, and quoted it back at him down the years. It speaks of the simple joy of being held by someone you are lucky to have and who knows that they are lucky to have you.

What’s not to like? Well, if you are Dame Helen Mirren, quite a lot apparently. “It annoys me,” Dame Helen says, “when I see men with an arm slung around their girlfriend’s shoulders. It’s like ownership.”

Eh? What senseless salvo is this in the gender wars, what seeking out of sexist slights where none is intended? How on earth could you look at a loved-up young couple walking down the street, entwined in their own private rapture, and think something so sour?

How do you show your disdain for something? Or register your firm agreement with an issue that matters a lot to you?

A few of you will still put pen to paper. Others will call somebody, depending on your proximity to the issue. And others still might take to the streets if the matter warrants public protest or similar.

But these days, more often than not, most will simply resort to a tweet, a Facebook “like”, or some other piece of digital ephemera. And then that’s it. Case closed. You’ve done your bit.

Just in case you were feeling constrained by the digital choices on offer, however, Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg has got something up his sleeve. He is hoping to bring some nuance to the internet with a new “dislike” button on Facebook.

It’s not expected to be called “dislike”, as the young multibillionaire says he doesn’t want to encourage people to be mean to each other (has he actually been on the internet lately?). Instead, he wants to develop a button to help people “express empathy”.

Well, one billion Facebook users are waiting, fingers primed. Mr Zuckerberg has known of the “like” button’s limited range for years, but seemingly it’s been too tough a nut to crack. Two years ago, a developer let slip that the company was working on a “sympathise” button, but nothing materialised.

Facebook is now trying to catch up, because the social network has changed dramatically since it first crashed on to our screens 11 years ago. No longer solely somewhere for its members to post drunken photos, humble brags and cute photos of their family, it is morphing into a political beast.

One look at the site’s most talked-about topics from 2014 – the Scottish referendum and the Gaza conflict – proves what a fight club the behemoth has become. My Facebook feed really wasn’t a healthy place to hang out last year. I looked at some of my chums in a whole new light.

And that’s just it. By unleashing a “dislike” button into the mix, Mr Zuckerberg is only going to toxify an increasingly fractious atmosphere among “friends”.

While people having rows could make the social network more addictive for some, it also fuels another depressing and unhealthy trend: armchair activism, better known as “slacktivism”.

I asked you at the beginning of this column how you make your voice heard – properly heard. For all too many, a ”dislike button” will offer another illusion of action, and yet it couldn’t be further from the real world. All it really offers is just another distraction and the means to shout into a digital echo chamber.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning, I spoke to one of the impassioned leaders of Femen, the topless feminist protest group currently making headlines after two of their activists stormed the stage of an Islamic conference in Paris. Femen’s approach is divisive, for sure. But no one could accuse these women of resting on their laurels. Ironically, they found out about the event on Facebook after people began voicing their disquiet about some of the speakers.

But instead of reaching for a digital button, they put their phones down and did something about it offline. How many of us can truly say the same?


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Posted on September 18, 2015, in Sri Lanka. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on A ‘Dislike’ Button on Facebook Will Only Encourage More Slacktivism.

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