Nearly two years ago, Facebook came under fire for a controversial social experiment. The company wanted to see how its users would react if their timelines showed more positive emotional content and how they would feel if most of the content was negative. The results were terrifying -- the way we feel is heavily influenced by what our friends are feeling and how they express those emotions over digital social networks. The researchers went so far as to call it "emotional contagion."
But it is ironic that a site could be so influential on our emotions when the only default emotion it wants you to experience is so basic -- the "like." Last week, Facebook changed things up by introducing several new reactions to posts. In addition to the standard like button, users can now also react with "love," "haha," "yay," "wow," "sad," and "angry."
It is more important a change than it may seem at first. Imagine this: you're scrolling through your feed and a post catches your eye. You take a look at it and decide you agree with it or think it's interesting. Normally, you would hit "like" to express your agreement. But what if the post in question is negative? It's harder to react to, say, a friend's post about how much they miss their dog that just passed away when your only option is "like." (You don't want them to think you LIKE the fact that their dog died, do you?!)
With these new reactions, people will be more likely to share bad news. And that's good for the rest of the world. News only gets out when it's abundantly shared, and it is hard to share negative and dark things. But now, Facebook is adding nuance to conversations. How you feel about a post is no longer a black and white mode of "like" or "no comment." The new features make it easier to share news that might be pessimistic or sad and still find empathy among your fellow friends. Or, you know, you can just keep posting cat .gifs.