What’s not to ‘like’? There’s plenty on Facebook

There it was on Facebook, a memory-jogging picture of Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium. It was posted on a recent football Friday, not on “Throwback Thursday.” One of my long-ago friends is a prep football referee.

I clicked “like.” So did others from Ferris High School’s class of ’72. I added a comment, something about marching on that field with the Ferris drill team. Soon, friends who hadn’t seen each other since our 40th reunion were sharing memories.

That’s the fun of Facebook, but it’s not all fun. A thumbs-up icon is hardly a suitable response to someone’s loss. Now, an alternative to Facebook’s “like” button is coming.

“Not every moment is a good moment,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday at the company’s California headquarters. He announced that Facebook is close to unveiling a button or buttons “to help express empathy and sympathy.”

I’m not likely to post anything about a bad day at work, or an argument with my teenager. I have shared on Facebook the deaths of two much-loved pets. And I have posted news articles about tragedies, nearby and across the world.

Zuckerberg didn’t say the added option will be “dislike.” According to an article by Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier, the “like” feature has been used since 2009 on Facebook, which has 1.49 billion users. In the past, Tuesday’s article said, the company hadn’t wanted any “dislike” button due to concerns it could discourage people from sharing.

Should it be “dislike?” If not, then what? I asked my Facebook friends.

“We were discussing this last night. Half my household thinks it will increase bullying online,” said one. “The other half liked the idea of being able to acknowledge a sad-unhappy post without having to ‘like’ it or leave an actual comment.”

Two Facebook friends suggested “dislike” or a sad-face emoticon. A woman who attends my church said, “I’m all for a thumbs down! However, don’t want the ensuing arguments to follow!!!”

I can almost hear a deadpan delivery of this comment, from one of my older son’s friends: “Tolerate, for friends and family.” My favorite suggestion, from another Everett friend, was “If you can’t say anything nice, just keep right on going” — and she added a wink emoticon.

At Everett’s Trinity Lutheran College, Michael DeLashmutt teaches a course in the Computer Information Systems department called “Ethics in an Information Age.” He sees Facebook as a positive way to stay connected in a world that’s increasingly mobile. People move away from family and change jobs, but can stay in contact through words, pictures and “likes.”

“It’s really powerful,” DeLashmutt said Thursday. “My wife and I have lived all over the world. We have friends on Facebook, and even if we’re not actively communicating, we feel that relationship is somehow maintained.”

DeLashmutt, who is Trinity’s academic dean and vice president for academic affairs, said that generations ago people in a village might dress in black if a friend died. “We have lost some of those skills of conveying sorrow and empathy toward one another. We don’t have the shared rituals we once did,” he said.

A “dislike” button, or something like it, would be “a way to show solidarity without excessive commitment,” DeLashmutt said.

And bullying? Is he worried about the ease of sharing a negative response with just one click?

Although DeLashmutt views technology in general as neutral, he said its use can be loaded with moral implications. “Certainly there is a likelihood of bullying,” he said. Cruelty and danger are aspects of social media, but DeLashmutt emphasizes that we mustn’t forget human dignity while using technology to interact.

Rather than a thumbs-down button, DeLashmutt said he hopes Facebook offers emoticons, “a smiley face, a level face and a frowny face.”

“The good folks at Facebook will come up with something,” he said. “We can like or dislike it.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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