Tell us what your like and share buttons mean to you

At a time when privacy concerns and social-media mismanagement are raising questions over how much power the internet giants wield, it’s worth remembering that Facebook has had the opportunity to do the right thing…

At a time when privacy concerns and social-media mismanagement are raising questions over how much power the internet giants wield, it’s worth remembering that Facebook has had the opportunity to do the right thing on the privacy front for years now. Instead, the company seems mostly to be focusing on its advertising business and the security of its user data instead. The latest round of news-of-the-week headlines seem to show that it’s taking steps to remedy this.

This Friday’s episode of the Facebook Debates, in which we feature the opinions of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, focuses in on Facebook’s controversial and evolving interaction with its users. As you might expect, it’s a thoughtful discussion that’s surprisingly easy to watch. But what really caught my eye was the discussion of the usefulness of the company’s “Like” and “Share” buttons.

This continues Facebook’s drive to take control of its content. The “like” button was invented to share content on Facebook and spread that content further. It wasn’t built to do anything. The “share” button, on the other hand, came in handy when people wanted to spread memes and even litter. They didn’t want to wait until their friends “liked” the item, so they stuck the widget on their newsfeed or posted it on their profile photo. Its presence was incidental rather than integral to Facebook’s storytelling process.

It’s now abundantly clear that Facebook badly needs to change that. Content on the social network should be designed for stories, and should reflect the same cultural zeitgeist that people share on Facebook. So, what do we want our likes and shares to reflect? We’re in the midst of a discussion about that right now. What do you want the world to know about Facebook? What do you want to see?

This week, Facebook has offered up a few ideas on how to do just that. The platform has launched the Facebook Communities Project, which seeks to find more unique ways for users to communicate with each other while also earning social currency. To achieve this, the company has asked its users to take part in its What to do with your Like and Share buttons survey. The two most popular buttons would be use more design options, and give people more opportunities to accumulate social currency.

Zuckerberg’s discussion on why the company needs to lead on this issue makes a lot of sense: “We’re starting to see this whole positive process come together around the world, where you have this very diverse set of groups that are interested in different topics. And they’re joining, they’re working together, they’re communicating, and all of this affects each other.” He goes on to highlight the importance of Facebook incorporating diversity in its own “community”, adding that the company “needed to lead that way.”

What are you going to say to your like or share buttons? It’s your problem now. Tell us what it means to you and why it matters to you.

• The podcast episode features interviews with Mark Zuckerberg (above), Tara Layden, CEO of idivu (formerly Rumpelstiltskin Entertainment) and Arina Katayeva of the University of Paris 8 (and a Deep Dive advisor).

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