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Could a Facebook 'Dislike' button backfire among teens?

CNN News Wire | 10/1/2015, 1:35 p.m.
I admit, it is more than a little strange to "Like" a Facebook post where a friend shares tragic news ...

I admit, it is more than a little strange to "Like" a Facebook post where a friend shares tragic news such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a pet. Clicking "Like" is a way to show your support, but in some way, aren't you are also "liking" the horrible thing that happened?

Now comes word via Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, that the company is working on a new feature that would give people "the ability to express empathy" on status updates about sad and unpleasant news. It's been widely reported to be a "Dislike" button, although Zuckerberg emphasized it won't be so simple.

He said it has been "surprisingly complicated" to come up with the right approach.

"We didn't want to just build a 'Dislike' button because we don't want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people's posts," he said during a townhall Q&A at the company's headquarters last month.

It's a welcome move to have more than "Like" to show how you feel about someone's tragic news, right? Well, it depends whom you ask. In email conversations with parents and others, there's a great deal of concern that what Facebook ultimately unveils could end up giving users the ability to dislike posts. That could give bullies and trolls even more ammunition and cause today's teens -- who are already wildly beholden to the amount of likes and comments they receive -- even more anxiety and stress, some parents say.

The crush of 'Dislike'

Diana Graber, the co-founder of CyberWise.org, a digital literacy site for tweens, teens, parents and educators, believes if Facebook ends up with something akin to a "Dislike" button, that would make it easier to bully people online.

In a post for the Huffington Post that received nearly 4,000 likes, Graber wrote "you don't need to be a child psychologist " to figure out how kids might use these buttons.

"It's not that kids are bad or nasty, on the contrary, they're kids and it's their job to test the tech innovations that adults think up," wrote Graber, who also teaches "cyber civics" to middle-schoolers in Aliso Viejo, California. "So imagine if when you were a kid, the bathroom wall offered a handy device making it quick and easy to 'unlike' ... anyone who happened to get under your skin that day. Who wouldn't be tempted to take advantage of such a convenient feature that might ultimately be hurtful to its target?"

In an interview, Graber said a lot of teens define themselves by the number of "Likes" they get. In fact, in a story last year on teen "Like" anxiety, teens told me about the importance of the "100 club," getting more than 100 "Likes" on a post.

"And so I can't even imagine what a 'Dislike' would feel like to a child. I just think that would be a really hurtful impact and you have to put yourself in the shoes of a very vulnerable (13-year-old) just getting on social media for the first time ... and the impact of a 'Dislike' or several 'Dislikes' could be really hurtful."