The Facebook Experience Without a Like Button

Disappearing the social network's most-used feature forces us to actually say nice things to each other.

We’re now at that stage of Facebook where users are some combination of bored and anxious. They're ready to start pushing and prodding at the network to see what they get back out, and they've started with the site’s most well-known feature: the Like button. Mat Honan at Wired spent 48 hours Liking everything he saw. Elan Morgan did the opposite, going two weeks without Liking a single thing. They came to different conclusions—Morgan reported that her feed improved and her desire to interact with people in real life increased, while Honan found himself inundated with click bait and political sludge. 

The social meaning of the Like button has perhaps been op-eded to death, but what would happen if you simply took the feature away entirely?

Adam Powers, a designer and writer (and a friend of mine) recently released a Chrome extension he calls “Neutralike.” It strips your friends' Facebook posts of the Like button. No longer can you signal your approval with a single click. And that’s the point, Powers tells me. “The primary intent is that I can no longer just click 'Like' to show my approval for something. I have to comment, even if it's a one-word response or a 'me too.' And I like it like that.”

Without the Like button, showing passive appreciation is harder. While the words that can take their place might be short (literally typing “like” into the comment box, for example) they’re still things you have to type. The comments are also not as easy for an algorithm to parse as adding +1 to a number in a database. And as the recent experiments have shown, liking things is a key factor in the constant algorithmic process of newsfeed creation.

I wondered whether that would simply make Powers stop showing his appreciation at all, but he says that’s not the case. “My urge to show approval to my friends hasn't waned at all. It just means I have to do a bit more work for it.”

I installed the extension, and it silently brushed the Like button off my feed. But I’m a Facebook lurker, not a Liker, so I can’t say I noticed a change in my own Facebook use. But it did remove that little question that lingers beneath every post: “do you like this?” Maybe sometimes that’s a question people shouldn’t have to answer. 

This isn’t the first Like removal extension ever developed. The web is full of tips and tricks to eliminate Likes from not just Facebook, but from all news sources. 

Powers says that this is just the beginning of his social media fiddling. My eventual goal, once I learn enough javascript, is to block like notifications entirely, since that's the primary source of what I think of as dark dopamine, or reward center activation resulting from dark design patterns.” The Like button isn’t just about you being able to shout “I like this” into the Facebook void. It’s also about your posts getting Liked, and the external validation that comes from the little red numbers that pool in your toolbar. Without either of those, Powers says, we’ll all have to find more intimate ways to tell each other what we like about them. Which might be a good thing for everybody. 

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Rose Eveleth is a writer, producer, and designer based in New York.

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