Facebook’s new emoji reactions based on sociological work

Facebook used sociological work to help roll out new emojis next to the “Like” button:

Adam Mosseri has a very important job. As head of Facebook’s news feed, Mosseri and his team were assigned the task of determining which six cartoon images would accompany the social network’s ubiquitous thumbs-up button. They did not take the task lightly. To help choose the right emoji to join “like,” Mosseri said Facebook consulted with several academic sociologists “about the range of human emotion.”…

The decision was reached after much deliberation. Arriving at the best of those trivial and common picture faces followed a lot of data crunching and outside help. Mosseri combined the sociologists’ feedback with data showing what people do on Facebook, he said. The goal was to reduce the need for people to post a comment to express themselves. “We wanted to make it easier,” he said. “When things are easier to do, they reach more people, and more people engage with them.”…

In order for something to qualify for the final list, it had to work globally so users communicating among various countries would have the same options, Mosseri said. One plea from millions of Facebook users, which the company ultimately ignored, was a request for a “dislike” button. Mosseri wanted to avoid adding a feature that would inject negativity into a social network fueled by baby photos and videos of corgis waddling at the beach. A dislike option, Mosseri said, wouldn’t be “in the spirit of the product we’re trying to build.”

Operation emoji continues at Facebook while the company monitors how Spaniards and Irish take to the new feature. The list isn’t final, Mosseri noted. The first phase in two European countries is “just a first in a round of tests,” he said. “We really have learned over the years that you don’t know what’s going to work until it’s out there, until people are using it.”

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been clear for years that they do not want Facebook to spread negative emotions. Rather, the social network site is about finding and strengthening relationships. The emojis both avoid dislike (though this set of six emojis includes one for sad and one for angry – but these are different than dislike) and make it easier for people to react to what others post.

Here are two factors that could affect these reaction emojis:

  1. Facebook will be pressured to add more. But, how many should they have? At what point does more options slow down reactions? Is there a proper ratio for positive to negative emojis? I’m guessing that Facebook will try to keep the number limited as long as they can.
  2. Users in different countries will use different emojis more and ask for different new options. At some point, Facebook will have to choose between universal emotions and providing country-specific options that appeal to particular values and expressions.