On Feb. 24, Facebook launched “Reactions,” an alternative to the ‘Like button’ that has become so emblematic of the social media monolith. Whereas users could before only “like” or comment on a friend’s status, photo or video, users can now react to the post in a variety of emotions. These emotions include “Haha”, “Wow”, “Sad” and “Angry” – you know, all the really complex ones.
Of course, all of this focus on emotional reactions to a product carries an ironic tone when you look at a 2013 study entitled “Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults” and realize that Facebook is actually making young adults less happy with their lives as they step out of the blue vortex.
“Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on (how they feel moment-to-moment) and (how satisfied they are with their lives) over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes,” read the study’s findings.
Expression is not the key to the new system of reactions, instead, it is a tool that allows Facebook friends to better perform their socially mandated duties. For example, if a friend’s bike is stolen, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually have a strong emotional response, but, in order to perform your social role as a concerned Facebook friend, you apathetically click the “angry” or “sad” buttons in a stand of solidarity against the bike thief.
That’s what Facebook is, after all, it’s a role-play session where you perform friendly duties in a virtual world filled with superfluous interactions.
Moreover, as if these emotional responses weren’t degraded enough, your feelings and emotional reactions are literally being bought and sold. The value of this system to a company like Facebook, is, above all else data. Facebook probably has more available data about you and I than any intelligence agency out there.
Now, they can not only track posts based on whether or not you’ve seen them, whether or not you’ve clicked on them, but how you felt when you saw a particular post. That’s strategic information that will inevitably lead to more targeted ads and another shift in Facebook’s already highly secretive algorithm.
If you “love” or “yay” a friend’s post about spring cleaning, you had better believe that there’ll be a Swiffer Wet Jet advertisement coming to a timeline near you. If that doesn’t make you bitter towards this new system, I don’t know what will.
With this new range of emotions, the next generation might be worse prepared than ever to fully and adequately express themselves through anything but emojis. The digital age has produced a lot of good, but perhaps self-reflexivity isn’t one of them. Facebook’s reaction system bastardizes emotions to an unsalvageable extreme, by which they become a component of a performative online identity, rather than a tool for meaningful interaction.
- Steve Nadon