Editorial: Facebook: ‘Dislike’ button divisive

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks as you open its mobile app.

More likely than not, what’s in the back of your mind while you use Facebook is your image — how your peers will perceive your pictures and posts.

Our education level, our relationships, our careers, our personal tastes — we make all these things apparent to our friends on Facebook. How many “likes” we get on these posts reflect just how desirable we are to others.

But what about how many “dislikes” we get?

On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that a dislike button may soon become a reality for the site’s 1.5 billion users, saying the company will launch a test project of a thumbs-down option soon.

While Facebook users have been clamoring for this option for some time now, a dislike button has the potential to lead to further division and exclusion for certain groups of people — causing more social anxiety to exist in a culture that is already rife with it.

“Facebook can unconsciously increase our self-esteem by providing us with the opportunity to reconstruct and control the way we present ourselves to the world,” Liraz Margalit, who has a doctorate in psychology, wrote in Psychology Today last November.

Mainly, we try to make our Facebook profiles attractive relative to what other individuals post — how cultured or educated do we appear when compared to our friends?

However, the standards of personal success our culture sets — which we reinforce through our Facebook posts — are not achievable for many individuals.

These standards — portrayed through our profiles — are reflections of where we sit on the social ladder.

A post illustrating one’s travels abroad or one describing a recent promotion, for instance, may get a lot of likes, but it also further separates us by socioeconomic level.

“Crude differences in wealth gradually become overlaid by differences in clothing, aesthetic taste, education, sense of self and all the other makers of class identity,” write social scientists Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.”

Facebook can exacerbate wealth differences by providing a medium on which to display them to everyone else. It causes a “social evaluative” threat — as psychologists Sally Dickerson of the University of California, Irvine and Margaret Kemeny of the University of California, San Francisco call it. They describe them as “threats to self-esteem or social status.”

Through their experimental research on how humans react to different scenarios, Dickerson and Kemeny found that situations “in which others could negatively judge performance, particularly when the outcome of the performance was uncontrollable,” were the greatest stressors.

This is because, in American culture, we tend to view our social status in terms of ability — rather than opportunity.

“Outward signs of success or failure (the better jobs, higher incomes, education, housing, car and clothes) all make a difference” in our culture, write Wilkinson and Pickett.

This is not fair to so many Americans, as many cannot escape the cyclical poverty that keeps them from gaining these “signs of success.”

For instance, according to a 2007 study by the Treasury Department, from 1996 to 2005, 0.2 percent of those who began in the lowest income bracket made it into the top 1 percent.

This gap in socioeconomic levels is something Americans experience every day, so why exacerbate it by allowing us to further ostracize those who can’t move up the ladder?

While most people won’t go on Facebook to explicitly dislike people’s posts, the button will certainly add to a culture of superficiality that is based on economic inequality — one that puts unnecessary pressure on people to be “successful” in the eyes of their peers.

Zuckerberg should keep this in mind during his testing of the dislike button.

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