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Disliking the Facebook 'dislike'

Rob Walker

Kai Ryssdal: Google is trying to turn search into more of a social, as opposed to solitary, pursuit. Yesterday it announced something called Plus One, where you can recommend search results and Web pages to your friends and see theirs.

Sounds a lot like Facebook's "like" button -- the way that actual social network lets people share things they dig movies, articles, what have you. It's the latest salvo, apparently, in the need people have broadcast their tastes.

Commentator Rob Walker says its time to button it up.


Rob Walker: A growing number of Facebook users want a "dislike" button. You know how you're supposed to "like" things on the site? This lets you do the opposite. Click to express disapproval of a link or picture your friend has posted. In fact there's a "dislike button" page on Facebook, and more than three million people have liked it.

I'm not one of them, because I dislike this idea. In fact, I hate it. I certainly think Facebook could be improved, and frankly I might "like" it if the site disappeared tomorrow. But one-click disapproval would not help, because this misguided idea completely misunderstands Facebook.

Facebook has nothing to do with honesty, genuine self-expression, or reality. It's a place to present, promote, and receive approval for an idealized persona. That's why everybody looks better in their (3-year-old) profile picture than they do in real life, and status updates tout professional successes, enviable lifestyle moments, and the latest feats of adorability of toddlers and pets. What they're not about is screwing up at work, gaining 10 pounds or how you're sick of your friend's adorable toddler.

Facebook is a gated suburb. It's sterile, controlled, happy. It's made of ticky tacky. And that's the point! Like the 'burbs, people have flocked to Facebook precisely because it's a cheerier version of reality. Rallying for a "dislike" button is like complaining that your neighborhood association won't let you sponsor a protest in your front yard, or open a nudist commune. You're in the wrong place for that. There's no shortage of ways to express displeasure online, and nobody has to spend their entire Web existence among the manicured identity facades of Facebook.

You might be annoyed by a friend's link about politics or the Red Sox -- but I can pretty much guarantee that responding with a dislike would not start a meaningful conversation.

Besides, Facebook -- in its infinite quest to create a '50s sitcom version of Internet life -- has already given you a very suburbanesque tool to deal with such offenses: just click on the button that says "hide."

Ryssdal: Rob Walker is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He's also the author of the book "Buying In." We can take your likes and dislikes, if you're gentle. Send us your comments -- click on the contact link.

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