The Like button, with its thumbs-up icon, has long been a staple of the world's largest social network. Now Facebook is adding six more symbols to help us express ourselves.
Ian SherrContributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who started the service as a college student 11 years ago, hopes these new icons will be the factor that'll help rope in even more members. That's a big ask given Facebook has already lured a fifth of the world's population. That's right, roughly 1.5 billion people visit Facebook to comment on photos of adorably cute children and insanely appetizing lunches. But they also use the Like button a lot.
That's why Zuck and Co. are rolling out the emojis, which are being tested in Ireland and Spain. Facebook thinks the six new symbols will change the way we talk with each other. And we should probably pay attention. After all, the social network has already disrupted the way we connect with friends and family.
In addition to Yay, Angry, Haha and Wow, Zuck et al are bringing us Sad and Love, and are keeping, of course, Like. Are they enough? Who knows? The alphabet has 26 letters.
Zuck acknowledges that the current Like button limits the way we express how we're experiencing the human condition.
The origin of emojis can be traced to ancient Japan. As far back as the 1990s, Japanese cell phone makers incorporated the pictures into their texting apps. The "e" translates to picture, while "moji" means character. You can think of them as evolved emoticons. A <3 became a heart emoji.
They were a hit.
Now a riot of emojis are used around the world. Some of them, like Zuck favorite Prickly Pear Cactus eating an ice cream cone, make little sense. Others, like a poop, are painfully obvious.
Emojis aren't likely to deepen the level of intellectual discourse on Facebook. Experts expect the network to largely remain a domain of cat videos, family photos and political hay.
So why do it?
Because the emojis could encourage us to communicate more, particularly when we don't have the time or energy to write a comment.
"People give a Like when they wouldn't normally say anything," said Clifford Lampe, an associate professor at the University of Michigan's school of information. "It's a way of saying, 'I'm paying attention to you and what you post.'"
People, he adds, like the positive reinforcement, regardless of whether they're giving or receiving it. That's what industry experts call "engagement."
Engagement isn't just good for us, it's good for Facebook. More Likes, and a larger variety of them, mean Zuck gets to collect more data as the service goes about its business of learning our habits and opinions. The more Facebook can build a profile of who you are in the digital world, the easier it is to send more targeted advertisements your way. (In case you didn't know, Facebook is mostly supported by ads.)
One day, Facebook may respond to an angry emoji you leave on an ad for a gas-guzzling car by showing you an electric car instead.
No one knows how Faceboook members will end up using emojis, and Zuck may find them employed in ways other than intended. A frowney (frowney? ) may simply be used as a Dislike with different art.
"It will take time to register how people are using them," said Andrea Forte, who teaches social computing at Drexel University. She said the opportunity to express more emotion is ultimately a good thing for both Facebook and those of us who use it.
Facebook hasn't said when the new emojis will arrive on US shores.
Already, the Facebook emojis have caused controversy. USA Today placed them next to stories on its October 9 front page. The Angry emoji was adjacent to a story about a botched Russian missile attack. Editors placed the Wow emoji next to a story about the race for Speaker of the US House of Representatives. People on Facebook Disliked the paper's choice. Or at least they would have if Facebook had the button.
"Social media and its icons are becoming a dominant form of communication in our world," USA Today Editor in Chief David Callaway said in a statement to AdWeek hours after the paper, and criticism, hit. "We wanted to show what they would be like if transferred to print."