Years ago, when I still used Facebook a lot, I posted a really mean reply to a friend’s post. A real friend, too, not just a “Facebook friend.” The aftermath was ruinous. My friend forgave me, thank goodness, but I was so horrified at my gaffe that I purged my account, shedding thousands of friends. I stopped posting my own personal updates, too. The whole experience made me not trust myself with social media. I’ve had similar experiences on Twitter, where it’s easy to go off the rails and regret it later.
Everyone who uses social media has probably had an experience like this. You say something that you regret, which hurts someone you know or—worse—upsets a whole mess of people you don’t.
Rana el Kaliouby, the CEO of Affectiva, an artificial-intelligence start-up, has an idea that might help remedy that. What if when you posted something on Twitter or Instagram or another service, she suggested on a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, the platform gave you feedback? For example, “You just upset 10,000 people.”
There’s some precedent. Twitter and Instagram have heart buttons, and Facebook lets you express (emoji-level) sorrow or anger at posts. But those are self-reported reactions, and they don’t capture the emotional response of everyone who chooses not to take explicit action. Reading laughter or anger directly off your Facebook friends’ real faces, in real time, would be a different story.