Facebook reactions: how emojis are making us more human

Social media expert Tony Lee talks to Liam and Robbie at 96five FM about the newest social media announcement: Facebook reactions.

Billed as an ’empathy’ button, this new feature will allow users to express much more than just a like, with new love, haha, yay, wow, sad, and angry emojis. But are these little characters making us more or less human?  


96five: Our names are Liam and Robbie. This is the family show here at 96.5 and I know there’s changes to Facebook which could change the way you are perceived from your friends. Gone are the days of just the one off like button, now there’s a whole range of emotions you can press and touch and give your friends an idea as to how you’re feeling throughout the day. But how not to be misread? Tony Lee from ntegrity agency joins us today. Is this a good thing, Tony? I thought it would have been much simpler just to have the like or dislike button, but now you can be feeling all sorts of things and letting us know, is that right?

Tony Lee: Well that’s right, I mean there’s been plenty of times you receive news and the like button is just not been appropriate but now Facebook has well and truly responded and added six new reactions to the like button, and they include love, laugh, yay, wow, sad, and angry emojis, so a whole range of emotions are available.

96five: See even the way you said it, even your tone, that’s your interpretation of ‘YAY’ whereas for me it could be ‘oh, yay…’. It’s all in the inflection in your own head isn’t it.

T.L.: That’s very true. I mean ultimately all feedback is useful and this does seem to be a byproduct of our increasingly feedback driven culture. And these reactions are going to be very useful for people who want to say something but don’t have much to say.

96five: I mean previously, I’m not a big Facebook user, but my wife is, I remember her showing me something once where it was quite a negative thing someone had written, and somebody had liked it but what they meant was, they wanted to support that person. But it read as if they liked what the person was going through. So that’s really because some of the feedback Facebook were receiving, is that correct?

T.L.: That’s right, Facebook does recognise that there is just so many limitations to what the like button can actually offer. They’ve called this the ‘reactions’ button, originally it was called an empathy button, which is a really clear indicator that the idea of context behind emotion is a really important one.

96five: I like the whole vibe of emojis – Robbie got me on to emojis, I’ve only just updated my phone software, it must have been ages since I updated it – and all of a sudden I’m like ‘what’s this button here in my texts’ but I like the fact that you can send a little picture, it’s really cute, but it can say a thousand words, can’t it, those pictures?

T.L.: That’s right, they’re very useful for people who are very busy. And again, it enables people to be able to emote in a way that sometimes words can’t express.

96five: Do you think we’ve got to be careful though – just playing Devil’s advocate – that we don’t think, like in my scenario, that someone was really going through something, they’d put something on Facebook, really they needed someone to ring up and talk to them, or someone to go round and be their friend and have a cup of tea with them. I mean you don’t want to replace that kind of personal contact with clicking a button, hey?

T.L.: I think there’s been some really clear indicators that Facebook have been very careful about this. There are two key human emotions: fear and disgust that are missing from the reactions button and there’s probably a very good reason for this. It possibly could be because it might be too confronting for people, and it might be unclear as to how people might use that in a sense that can be connected with. And those deep psychological emotions are difficult to convey in that kind of environment, so I think that’s a really good point – there are certain emotions that are missing, probably deliberately because of the complexity of how emotions are portrayed in a digital sense.

96five: Now mate, just for the kids who are grappling with emotions at the best of times, do we see any danger or anything possibly harmful here for the kids, especially when we don’t monitor all their Facebook activity?

T.L.: Well I mean this type of emotions I think is very good in many ways – to help teenagers particularly develop more confidence in expressing their emotions and validating other people’s opinions. It helps them develop empathy, but for parents I think it’s really important for them to monitor their teenagers’ emotions. Some people are better at expressing themselves online than verbally, so just giving equal importance to both the positive and the negative emotions that teens are expressing will ensure that they get a more consistent and genuine read of their emotional states and help determine whether they’re crying for attention as opposed to crying for help.

96five: We’re talking about the latest reactions feature that Facebook is now offering; Tony Lee joins us from ntegrity agency on how to let people know how you’re really feeling. Good on you Tony, nice to chat with you mate, we appreciate the heads up.

T.L.: My pleasure, thanks Liam.

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