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Should You Worry About a Facebook ‘Dislike’ Button?

The Facebook dislike button is already causing headline news around the world. It shows just how far society has come (or regressed?) that the introduction of a new button on a popular blue web site can stir such emotion globally. The platform is completely embedded into people’s lives, with social media permeating our every waking moment, and thus the furor, however insane to some it might at first seem.

If you look beyond the fuss and hyperbole, there is a debate raging that’s worth tapping into and keeping track of. In short, we’re already in a world where trolling and online abuse are everywhere. Entire charities and aid foundations have been formed in order to support those who have become victims of cyber bullying. It is an unfortunate truism that the cloak of anonymity, or the perceived divider of the “screen,” encourages those with such a cruel disposition to act on their more nasty urges to troll or to spout bile to people they often barely know.

Platforms like Twitter were initially caught napping when it came to online abuse and have had to play catch up, enabling much more stringent and swift blocking measures. In the U.K. for example, their closer links to the police mean those who suffered from an abusive incident online can take legal action quickly against those who are blatantly breaking the law.

Understandably, we’ve all been a little worried that Facebook’s introduction of a “dislike” button will only encourage those who want to act in a manner not befitting to the ethos behind social.

Frankly though, I think we’re probably worrying a bit too much, as I assume Mark Zuckerberg has got this. This is an organization and a man with incredibly grand altruistic ambitions. His connecting-the-world ambition has always ran deep, culminating in Facebook’s plans to fly new satellites over Africa to enable everyone everywhere to be able to have an Internet connection for the first time. We know there is commercial savvy behind this but this is also a man intent on leaving a significant legacy, much like his huge financial contributions to charities reinforce.

He has publicly voiced concern about a “dislike” button for the very reasons so many on the planet are now up in arms about its imminent introduction. But this transparency hints at mobilizing his colossal brain trust to think of a way to get the thing working. Because there is something else going on here that isn’t right.

Facebook these days is rarely just cats playing pianos or whatever its usual detractors might scoff. Instead, it has become more closely aligned to a news vehicle. It is a platform for community to begin, to generate huge empathy around issues as they take hold around the world. Facebook has been at the fulcrum of revolutions, of countries’ politics and elections, and of backlash against governments. As such, it feels a bit flimsy to only allow the action of “liking” content. The content is such now that a mere “like” doesn’t feel sufficient.

It is my firm belief that Facebook is going to be smarter than this. I’m certain its engineers will test something so that disliking doesn’t create a simple gladiatorial vote around the content we see. That kind of polarity would be too stark and too open for waves of negative sentiment to take hold. Instead, I think we should expect a more nuanced, sophisticated approach that reflects the need to empathize or cast our sympathy. That, after all, is woven within the fabric of Facebook’s ambition. It won’t want to start causing a divide right now, just as it finally has most of the world on its side.

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James Kirkham is Leo Burnett’s global head of social and mobile.