The Web Reacts to Facebook’s Reactions

Ben Moss By Ben Moss  |  Feb. 24, 2016

It’s inappropriate to ‘Like’ someone’s firing, breakup, fashion disaster, or untimely demise. That’s the conundrum Facebook has been struggling with since it introduced its ‘Like’ button seven years ago.

Today, after announcing the move last year, Facebook has rolled out its new ‘Reactions’ to all users. The six buttons—Like, Love, Wow, Sad, Bashful, and Sneezy—are intended to convey the full spectrum of human emotion, or at least give users more options to express themselves than they previous had.

Facebook’s ‘Like’ feature has been so fundamental to the definitive social network that it’s part of its branding; as recognizable, if not more so (especially after last year’s rebrand) than the company logotype itself.

It’s a modern-classic problem for a startup that has outgrown its original use-case: the UI that users are accustomed to, no longer reflects the tasks users are trying to accomplish. Twitter faced a similar issue in 2015 when it rebranded its star icon as a heart. It’s a problem LinkedIn would bite your hand off to be troubled by.

In a Medium post on the design process, Product Design Director at Facebook, Geoff Teehan acknowledged the potential teething problems:

We needed to thoughtfully curate any change so it felt like a natural evolution, taking care not to feel abrupt or disrupt everyone on our platform

Strangely, given how important this update is to Facebook, the icons are both visually, and semantically inconsistent: only the ‘Like’ and ‘Love’ buttons are icons, the other four reactions are emoticons; ‘Like’ is a mild version of ‘Love’, but there’s no ‘Mild Distain’ reaction to partner ‘Hate’; ‘Wow’ could be both positive, or negative. Do you send someone ‘Love’ when they’re bereaved?