Soon: An alternative to Facebook 'like'

However, many still feel uncomfortable registering their dislike for someone's post

To like or not to like? That is the question Facebook users have struggled with when confronted with posts by friends that they may want to support, but find the "like" button too inappropriate for the occasion.

Users of the social media website may finally be able to "dislike" posts, or at least have another option other than "like" to show their acknowledgement of a fellow user's posts.

After years of user requests, the social media giant announced on Tuesday that it is working on such a button, which will be tested soon.

However, social media experts believe users here may not be using it very often.

"Many Singaporean netizens are not as confrontational as their American counterparts," said Dr Brian Lee, head of the communication programme at SIM University's School of Arts and Social Sciences.

"Giving a clear-cut 'dislike' or 'thumbs down' to register your disagreement, especially to your social media friends, may not be a socially correct thing to do here."

However, it seems unlikely that the function will be a clear-cut dislike button, as founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a live question-and-answer streaming session that it is not meant to be used to "down vote" posts.

Rather, as users want a way to "express empathy", the new button will give users more options to convey their feelings about their friends' posts.

There is, thus, little risk that your Facebook feed will turn into a battleground overnight, with people disliking your posts of cute babies or sleepy puppies.

"There are more emotions than just liking," said Dr Tracy Loh, a visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore communications and new media department. "When you see someone being ill or running into some bad luck, you may want to show support but 'liking' the post seems a bit insensitive."

A "dislike" button, or an empathetic equivalent, will make it easier for users to display their true intent of support or solidarity, she said.

The new button may also affect the content a user sees on his or her content feed, according to Ms Pat Law, who runs social influence marketing agency Goodstuph.

"Whatever you now see on your feed is based on your current friends and their engagement to certain posts, be it like, comments or sharing. Will it push up a post, or push it down?"

As it stands, users feel that nothing beats actual communication through a personalised message should their friends encounter personal difficulties.

Said postgraduate student Jason Yan, 25: "I wonder if the 'dislike' button will just end up being equally redundant. I'm not going to feel more comfortable 'disliking' a post on someone's grandma's death any more than 'liking' it. It just feels very reductive to me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Soon: An alternative to Facebook 'like''. Print Edition | Subscribe