It’s the lazy commenters’ favourite tool – needs no effort apart from a click. The numbers pile up, provide gratification for those who receive it and according to the Wall Street Journal article, encourage conformity. In an age when the average comment is the meaningless ‘Nice post’ or ‘Great’, there is a rationale for the ‘Like’ button. Or the +1 from Google. It’s the equivalent of a ‘I was here and saw what you posted’. There is no attempt to probe deeply into the subject or come up with a counter argument that stimulates. The basic attitude is ‘why bother?’ In the flame wars that erupt on a Mac fanboy site and the vitriol on Rediff, the comments have a mind and life of their own. They have very little to do with the article posted. It is simply posturing for the sake of posturing – with all the allure of watching a street fight where the combatants have run out of words. It is amazing that people have such strong positions on things they have virtually no control over – and the length they are prepared to go to defend that opinion.
In focus group sessions, moderators are wary of the single dominant opinion. It starts early and if the dissenter or the opinion leader is strong he or she will ensure that a contrary opinion does not arise. The ‘discussion’ quickly morphs into who is right and who is wrong, not on the subject at hand. It is interesting to watch from the sidelines where the dominant person will first hold forth without allowing anyone else to speak. If there is the chance that a dissenter will take a different path, it erupts into an all out assault on the dissenter’s point of view. Then, depending on the nature of the combatants, the discussion moves one way or the other depending on the number of those involved who subscribed to either view. What was more surprising, however, was the absence of a real position. People were happy to be stuck in a neutral mode where they could have swung either way because it really made no difference to them – and they want the opinion of the person they ‘liked’
So, in person, people were more likely to keep their real opinions to themselves. But provide them with an anonymous forum to vent and they will come up with all kinds of filth and open up to the world. The proliferation of sites like this establishes the fact that we rant when we are unhappy, rather than be appreciative when we encounter something good. So Facebook took the easy way out. They gave millions of their users a safe, non-objectionable way to show appreciation. And that’s probably the reason they did not create the ‘Hate’ button. Because it would have blown up into another pointless flame for every provocative post