U.S. Markets open in 24 mins

Stop Hating on Facebook’s Like Button

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech
Facebook thumbs-up logo

There seems to be a war on the Facebook Like happening these days. The latest salvo: a Chrome extension, “Neutralike,” that eliminates the familiar Like option from your Facebook News Feed. If one of your friends there posts something you like, you’ll have to say so in words, not with a click.

“The primary intent,” Neutralike creator Adam Powers explained to The Atlantic, “is that I can no longer just click ‘Like’ to show my approval for something. I have to comment, even if it’s a one-word response or a ‘me too.’ And I like it like that.”

This follows recent journalistic stunts meant to examine the meaning of Like: One writer liked everything he saw on Facebook for 48 hours; another liked nothing for two weeks. Both emerged questioning the wisdom of Likes. And, as The Atlantic noted, Like-removal has been explored before.

But here’s the thing: I like Like. Here’s why.

This morning I gave Neutralike a whirl. I basically visit Facebook once a day, in the morning, mostly just scrolling through my “Close Friends” list, and a group or two. Today, one friend made a particularly witty remark, and another posted a link to a cool artist-book-making event in Houston.

Normally, this is stuff I would have liked. Today I couldn’t.

The question is, what value would come from instead posting a comment? “That was a very witty remark!” or even just “LOL.” Doesn’t that add to the useless clutter of non-communication that is the bane of social media in general? How, exactly, is “Me, too” a more meaningful and engaging response than clicking Like?

For actual social interaction, with actual friends, Like is incredibly useful. Sure: It seems like a dumbing-down of communication, a digital grunt of approval. Agreed: Responding to a friend’s major life events (a new baby or something) with a Like seems like a degradation of human interaction.

But the existence of a Like button doesn’t prevent you from saying something more when that is called for. And sometimes a simple Like is perfectly appropriate.

I really didn’t have anything articulate to say about that book-making event in Texas, and it certainly wasn’t worth anyone’s time to have some kind of ginned-up “conversation” about it. (“Hey, that’s awesome. Thanks for posting!” “Yer welcome!” and so on.) So I just kept scrolling. And my friend who linked to it has no way of knowing that her post improved my morning.

Much of the recent grousing over the Facebook Like has centered on what it does to your News Feed. Possibly the Like really does screw up the kind of current-events-related links Facebook’s algorithm chooses to show you. But that’s a different argument.

Here’s a pro tip: If you want to keep up with the news, visit a news site.

Neutralike is a perfectly worthy experiment, and I’m sympathetic to Powers’ thinking, but I’ll be turning the extension off shortly. Then I’ll go like friends’ witty remarks and cool links, and they’ll know I like what they’ve posted, and nothing further needs to be added.

That doesn’t undercut connection with far-flung friends. It creates it. Which is exactly what I like about Like.

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.