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Why you'd really, really hate a Facebook 'dislike' button

Commentary: Facebook is testing a "downvote" button, but it's very different from a "dislike" button -- and that's a great thing.

Ian Knighton/CNET

You don't know what you got till it's gone.

Pop stars have been telling us this for decades. Fun fact, though. This axiom has a lesser-known little brother: "You only realize you don't want a 'dislike' button on Facebook until you get one."

I think Shakespeare coined that.

Last week brought news Facebook is testing a "downvote" button, allowing a small sprinkling of users to mark statuses as "offensive" or "misleading." And of course, at the slightest hint of a kind-of-"dislike" button, everyone (including T-Mobile's CEO) hit us with the ol' "just give us a dislike button!"

People have been clamoring to dislike since Facebook introduced the "like" in 2009. This is natural: If there's a "like" button, there intuitively should be a "dislike" button to balance out the Force. But remember, the last time someone tried to balance the Force things ended with dozens of dead Jedi younglings.

Speaking of ruining dreams, everyone wanted a Star Wars prequel trilogy until we got one. Everyone will want a dislike button -- until we get one. How do I know? Twitter. Every time Twitter does anything, people get mad. This is because Twitter has some significant problems with harassment and abuse that many of its users evidently feel are unaddressed.

Admittedly, these complaints never made too much sense to me. It's not like Twitter management could only double the character limit of tweets or eradicate humanity's capacity for hatred, and decided just to do the former. Still, we can all agree that online harassment = bad. Which means there shouldn't be a "dislike" button.

People imagine the positives of "dislike" -- playfully teasing friends, expressing sympathy -- but think about how it could be used against you.

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If I posted a picture or a status that got 99 likes and one dislike from an associate-turned-Facebook-friend, I would never forget it. I'd get a heart condition from how salty it would make me. If I was trying to be funny and posted a status that got 15 likes and 30 dislikes? Game over. I'd fake my death, move to Cuba and start a new life/Facebook account as Daniel Benitez-Valiente.

But I'm an idiot. We've already established this. If you consider how this could affect people with real social problems, like school kids getting cyberbullied, it becomes a more drastic problem.

True, Facebook has less of an abuse and hate speech problem than Twitter, since you have to accept someone as a friend before they can post on your wall or @ you. But not only would a dislike button be another potential tool for harassment, it could also emphasize the political polarization most of the Western world is dealing with right now.

At the moment, if someone posts something you disagree with, you can either take the time to express how you disagree or you can ignore it. A dislike button would let people give their tick of disapproval without contributing anything meaningful.

True, Facebook's Reactions, which were introduced in 2016 and among other things let you express "sad" and "anger," already let you do this, but even those reactions feel less smug, passive-aggressive or straight-up aggressive than a "dislike."

It's almost unfathomable that a dislike button would lead to anything but bad press for Facebook -- at a time when the company is confronting a dizzying amount of just that. Adults are worried about Facebook-spread #FakeNews and Russian propaganda, while teens are finding the platform less "cool" than ever. And that doesn't even factor in the mounting evidence that Facebook is bad for the mental health of basically everyone who uses it.

So yes, praise be to Facebook for having the restraint over the years to not give in to the demand for dislike. It's better for all of us -- especially me. Starting a new life in Cuba sounds exhausting. 

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