Dislike of the like button

When you read histories or profiles of Facebook (the “original” product), there are two inflexion points that are likely to get mentioned. One is the news feed, where updates from all your friends are shown in “random” order on your wall (along with a bunch of ads). The other is the “like” button.

The like button was transformative in that it allowed people to express their acknowledgement of a post without really having to write a word. It was the lazy person’s best friend. One bit to show that they have “put attendance” or “shown support” or just acknowledged that they had been there.

More importantly, from Facebook’s perspective, this gave them tremendous data (at low cost to the users) in terms of what people wanted to see more or less of on their newsfeeds. Their algorithms quickly started working on this, and people’s feeds got tuned. Engagement went up. Ad sales went up. Everything was good.

And then the like button started appearing everywhere. I remember Twitter changing one button – from something else to “like”. LinkedIn introduced it, too. Soon, there were several versions of the like button representing different kinds of emotions. I don’t even understand what most of these buttons mean.

It was only a matter of time that this button would make its way to WhatsApp. It’s been there for a few years now but I haven’t really taken to using it. And now I’m thinking it’s actually a problem.

The problem with the like button (or any other such emojis) on WhatsApp is that it is a conversation stopper. Literally. It is basically a message that cannot be replied to, or acknowledged (you can’t like a like). So once one of the parties puts the emoji, there is nothing more to be done, but to move on.

Long ago, conversations would go like this:

“Hey man, happy birthday”.
“Thanks a lot. how are you doing? how’s the job / wife / kid? ”
Conversation continues….


“Hey, check out this link”
Either no response, or “Thanks, I’ll check it out”, or (best case) “Very very interesting. This is my take on this. And see this other article”

Now all this is history. You say Happy Birthday, and people react right there with some emoji. You send them a link. They react with a thumbs up sign on the same message. There is nothing else to do. There is no conversation.

I’ve started regarding the like emoji on WhatsApp as rude (the only exception is the laughing emoji, to react to jokes, and that is ONLY to be used in groups). If someone reacts with an emoji (especially the thumbs up, or folded hands), I take that as “ok fine, I don’t want to talk to you” sign.

Maybe I’m becoming old.


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