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Facebook 'Reactions' test lets you express many more feelings than just 'like'

The social network leader will venture beyond the thumbs-up with a test starting Friday for residents of Ireland and Spain.

This is Facebook Reactions in action. Can you feel the love? Facebook

Facebook users, prepare to express yourselves

Starting Friday, the world's largest social network will begin a test in which people get a much fuller range of responses than just the iconic thumbs-up "like." The feature, dubbed Reactions, will offer icons to express love, laughter, happiness, shock, sadness and anger, a company representative said Thursday.

To add a reaction, testers on mobile devices will long-press the "like" button while PC users will hover over it. An array of options will then pop up. A post will note the number of each reactions received.

Reactions won't immediately be tested on all Facebook users. The company will begin real-world testing of the feature only in Ireland and Spain.

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Facebook's new Reactions feature offers options beyond the "like" button. Facebook

The change may seem superficial, but it's actually profound for the company. The "like" button is so deeply embedded in Facebook's workings that the icon greets visitors at the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters. With the "like" button, the company seemed to be taking the age-old advice that "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." But for many, "like" seemed a poor way to express sympathy for posts about unfortunate events like illnesses, deaths or crimes.

Facebook has for years resisted pressure from a cadre of users to add a "dislike" button. With Reactions, it's taking a different tack, one that allows for a spectrum of emotions to be expressed while avoiding the up- and down-voting of posts that occurs on YouTube, Reddit and many Internet forums. An overwhelmingly negative reaction to a post without an actual discussion taking place could alienate users and discourage them from sharing -- something Facebook wants to avoid.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially teased Reactions during an event at the company's headquarters in September. Acknowledging that "not every moment is a good moment," Zuckerberg said Facebook would introduce a feature to reflect its users' wishes to have more ways to express themselves.