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Facebook’s new Reactions emojis are great, but I still prefer comments

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 9.11.08 AMI have mixed feelings about Facebook’s new Reactions product. On one hand, I applaud the company for offering users a wider range

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

of emotional responses they can easily make to other people’s posts but I worry that it might cause some to make fewer comments the old-fashioned way, by typing their original thoughts.

Until Wednesday, the only way you could acknowledge a person’s post with a single click was to “like” it. That’s fine for responding to something positive, but not if the person just posted that his dog died or that she got laid off from her job.

With the new Reactions, you can now hover over the Like button and also choose Love, Haha, Wow, Sad or Angry.

Most of these have obvious meanings, but I was curious as to whether Angry could be used to express anger at the person doing the posting. In an interview, Facebook engineering director Tom Alison told me that, in the tests of the new feature, “angry” was mostly used to express support for what a person posts. “When people use angry they’re typically expressing some kind of comradery with the original poster,” he said.

The reason for my mixed feelings is that I prefer comments over likes or even these new emojis. I like that there are more options, but it’s still no substitute for a thoughtful comment. As someone who posts pretty often on Facebook, I really like it when people take the time to write a response to what I’ve posted. I appreciate likes too, but not as much as comments. And if someone posts about losing a loved-one, I still think that a thoughtful comment, even as short and heavily used as “I’m sorry for your loss,” is better than using the sad button.

Having said that, I admit that I do far more “liking” than commenting. It’s just so easy to respond with a single click and sometimes you really don’t have anything to say other than “I hear you.”

Facebook put a lot of time into researching the exact emotions to let people express via Reactions, including consulting with psychologists and other experts. In a blog post, Facebook Product Design Director Geoff Teehan said, “It was incredibly important to be empathetic here and it’s why we did so many iterations, and took the amount of time we did. The whole point of expanding reactions is to have a universally understood vocabulary with which anyone can better and more richly express themselves.”

There is no “dislike” button and that’s probably a good thing, because it would likely to be used to put people down. Facebook has put a lot of resources into trying to maintain a friendly environment. And, while it allows for and even encourages spirited disagreements, the company tries hard to encourage people to be at least civil to each other, if not downright nice.

Once or twice a year the company holds Compassion Research Day where experts from places like the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center present research on how Facebook and other companies can encourage compassion and understanding. Some of the topics at the last year’s Compassion Research Day event I attended included “addressing death on Facebook,” the “science of awe and happiness” and “language matters, communicating compassion on Facebook.”

Facebook’s compassion research has helped the company develop its social reporting tool, which encourages people to resolve disputes on their own. As with other services, it turns out that a lot of abuse complaints people make about other users don’t necessarily violate the company’s terms of service. For example, if someone posts an unflattering picture of you it probably won’t be taken down by Facebook staff because there is nothing in their rules about people having to look good in pictures. But what they did find is that in most cases, if you ask nicely, the person who posted it will take it down.

Facebook has also teamed up with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to sponsor inspirED, which serves as a support group and leadership training project for high school students and to encourage social emotional learning (SEL). SEL is a way to get to the root causes of bullying and abuse by helping people learn to resolve conflicts.

Of course, Facebook isn’t the only company trying to figure out how to create a kinder and gentler experience for its users. It’s a major priority for Twitter too, which has been plagued by several well publicized cases of abuse and harassment.

The company recently appointed a Trust and Safety Council to provide input on its products, policies and programs. There are more than 40 organizations and experts from around the world, representing civil rights groups, feminist organizations, the Gay and Lesbian Anti Defamation League and some anti-bullying and Internet safety groups, including my own nonprofit,

In summary, I “Like” that Facebook is offering its new Reactions product. I don’t necessary “Love” it, nor does it prompt me to say “Wow.” But even thought I’m just a bit “Sad” that it could cut down on commenting, it certainly doesn’t make me “Angry.” So, if you appreciate my attempt at humor here, please go to my Facebook page ( and give a “HaHa.” Better yet, a thoughtful comment would be nice.