If you use Facebook, you have probably noticed that in the last few days there has been a significant change to your News Feed that a lot of people are talking about. In addition to just plain old Liking a post, you can now react in varying degrees of emotion:
The impetus for this change is that users have always complained about how limited the Facebook Like is when it comes to posts that aren’t happy announcements or accomplishments. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve maybe commented “dislike” or some variation on someone’s post to register that you’re not really Liking the post, or you’ve seen other people do this. Now, Facebook provides an expanded range of reactions to help signify exactly how you feel about your friend’s posts.
When I found out about the expansion and saw it roll on my News Feed, I thought about how I use Facebook and how it has shaped my Internet identity. I’m somewhere between an active participant and lurker. I post a fair amount: links to these blog posts, statuses where I try to seem funny, interesting articles I can’t wait to share, YouTube music videos and some of my Instagram photos. I don’t really make personal announcements, and I don’t post anything to get my friend’s sympathy — if I’m having a terrible day or something bad happens, I do not mention it on Facebook.
For the interacting part of Facebook, I’m also the same kind of user. For my closest friends and even people I don’t see regularly but really like, I like about 90 percent of their posts and leave birthday messages. For former classmates and coworkers, I’ll like the accomplishment statuses or photos of cool things they’re doing. And for people I haven’t interacted with face-to-face in years, a like from me on anything is rare — the same goes for posts from pages I’ve subscribed to. When it comes to my Facebook friends, I both want to keep up with how things are going and also have the option to virtually observe. Even though I don’t Like a lot of content that comes across my social media feeds, that doesn’t mean I didn’t see it or that it didn’t impact me in some way.
This all goes to say that I operate in a particular way within Facebook’s structure — as do you — and the choices that I make and Faceboook makes for me shape my Internet identity. I don’t think I’ll use these reactions (much in the same way I have yet to abandon the Instagram square photo format), but I can’t prevent my friends from using them to interact with my posts. It’s become part of the social construct and discourse that is Facebook, and it’s now pretty much inescapable unless Facebook decides to pull it. What you post or the way you utilize the Like and commenting systems are actions also say something about who you are on the Internet, and by extension who you are in real life. These expanded reactions now impact this shaping, regardless of whether or not you decide to use them.
The most important thing that this Like expansion magnifies is that it is a form of social currency that validates our feelings and experiences and makes us feel that they are real. Think about when you post something on Facebook — you might expect your close friends to Like it, and you’re surprised when someone you haven’t talked to in awhile hits that thumbs up or leaves a comment. You may even feel obligated to return the favors as a way to maintain relationships. If someone you’re close with doesn’t like your status or leave a comment on your photo, you at least wonder why and may jump to conclusions that are probably not good. Facebook has made and facilitates these social constructions that have affected the way we live our everyday lives, and it is rooted in the Like.
This article hits the nail on the head of what these Likes mean: “The more “liked” a post or tweet is, the more present it becomes, and since online we are little more than the sum of our posts, the more real we feel ourselves becoming.” The acknowledgement of our posts makes us feel that we are legitimate and that we can feel things that mean something, even though it’s all happening in a virtual space. I think the leaders at Facebook are hyperaware of how their service is changing the way we live our everyday lives, and do things like this expansion in order to cement the social media network as a cultural behemoth. If it didn’t happen on Facebook, it might not have really happened at all.
What do you think about any or all of this? Let’s talk about it in the comments.