You know the story. Someone just posted on Facebook about their breakup—or the untimely death of a loved one—and it feels too wrong to “like” it. But how else, besides sending flowers, snail mail, email, or picking up a phone, will you let your friend know that he or she is in your thoughts?
According to the Huffington Post, Facebook is hoping to stamp out this awkward scenario once and for all, as the company is considering the addition of a “sympathize” button (to replace to the “like” button in instances of a user posting something with the attached feeling of “sad” or “depressed”) for those sad or depressed occasions when a jutting thumbs-up just won’t do.
According to Facebook engineer Dan Muriello, who spoke on Dec. 5 at a presentation at Facebook’s Compassion Research Day, where researchers from Facebook, Yale, and the University of California, Berkeley gather to discuss how to make the site a nicer place, “It would be, ‘five people sympathize with this,’ instead of ‘five people ‘like’ this,’ which of course a lot of people were—and still are—very excited about. But we made a decision that it wasn’t exactly the right time to launch that product. Yet.”
Psychologists might urge them to hurry up. In recent years, researchers have just begun scratching the surface of the psychological effects of social media on users. “We have often heard of the idea of Facebook depression, the phenomenon of individuals seeing what great lives everyone else is leading and how theirs pales in comparison,” said Goal Auzeen Saedi, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. “This needlessly pressures individuals to only experience and share positive emotions. I do think there needs to be more balance.” Saedi is in favor of the sympathize button.
Indeed, a “sympathize” button might be a push in the right direction. A study from the University of Michigan published in August of this year demonstrated that the longer someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied they are with life; a German study conducted in January came to the conclusion found that envy was the most commonly associated emotion with the site. Could a “sympathize” button help reverse this negative trend? It’s too soon to say, of course. But according to Saedi, it couldn’t hurt.
As for now, Facebook has no plans to launch the button anytime soon. In the meantime, we’d suggest just picking up the phone.