Remember in 2007, when everyone wrote their Facebook status in the third person and you couldn’t even comment on it? It seems like a simpler time. Much like the 1950s of social media. But nostalgia plays tricks on our perception of the past – even though most of us weren’t there, we remember the 50s as a great time for leaving your back door unlocked, forgetting it was a pretty dismal time for hair conditioning and racism. So, too, do we misremember social media – sure, there was no “Wow” button to get to grips with in 2007. But none of us had privacy settings, either.
When I created a group to collect phone numbers from my university pals, I oh-so-ironically called it “Local Sex!” and joked that people should leave their numbers for anonymous al fresco hook-ups in the area. Within a day, the group was overrun by an insurgency of strangers who missed the irony, and, within two weeks, I was inadvertently at the head of the largest collective of doggers and cruisers in the West Midlands. All of them with access to my friend’s phone numbers. Up went the third person status: “Seán is very sorry to all the girls, please delete your numbers and ignore the calls you get!”
So I don’t like to dwell on the past or resist the ineluctable sands of time when Facebook introduces something new. Cara Delevingne forced a review of this policy when she defiantly spoke out against previous talk of a dislike button this week. The model, who has 3.6 million followers, argues that integrating a negative response such as a dislike button could usher in a new era of bullying, in which selfies are ‘disliked’ as an attack on the confidence of the poster. It’s a compelling point, especially given her status and fame, but I am more optimistic about humanity than that. Or maybe I’m more optimistic about humanity’s cowardice. The benefit of Facebook – which is why it has made a Lady Gaga-style comeback from a predicted decline into obscurity – is that it’s a harder platform on which to be anonymous, and people generally only have the courage to be vicious, abusive or cruel when they’re hidden. This inability to deal with masked vitriol forms the basis of Twitter’s recent woes.
“A like on Twitter can mean anything from a shady ‘fuck off’ to a thirsty ‘fuck me’”
The ever-wily Mark Zuckerberg has also taken concerns like those expressed by Cara on board and has seemingly scrapped the ‘dislike’ button idea in favour of the five new reaction buttons – ‘love’, ‘haha’, ‘wow’, ‘sad’ and ‘angry’. The literary scholar Harold Bloom once said that the full spectrum of potential human emotion could be found in Shakespeare’s 37 plays. Sounds to me like Harold Bloom has never had a ‘wow’ on his no make-up selfie, for how else could he fail to see that the panorama of human experience can, in fact, be contained in six simple buttons? In truth, social media discourse is already adept at introducing multiple subtexts to one function – which is why a ‘like’ on Twitter can mean anything from a shady ‘fuck off’ to a thirsty ‘fuck me’.
What’s forgotten when we react to the reactions is that Facebook is a data collection point, seeking more ways to build a complex matrix of preferences and habits so it can snitch on us to advertisers. I’m less unnerved by this process than many and often amused by its results: Facebook recently suggested I may like ‘euthanasia’ and a ‘gay singles cruise’ holiday to me in quick succession. Sure, I’d like both. But only in that order.
Nevertheless, I’ll confess to thinking of myself as an enigma, shrouded in mystique. So while I have no bugbear with using the expanded pantheon of inbuilt responses to my friends’ posts and photos, I will defiantly reserve the right to create ambiguity and uncertainty as to the workings of my mind, and encourage others to do so too. No one deserves to be unfairly targeted or bullied online, but some people do deserve some mysterious shade when they’re out of line.
In lieu of the five new off-the-rack reaction buttons, here are five bespoke responses you should start using too.
THE DOUBLE EXCLAMATION MARKS
If you’re dead inside and so stricken down with ennui like me that you don’t really register ‘shock’ or ‘surprise’ as actual feelings but more a performance you’ve intuited by observing other people’s behaviour I recommend the eternal advantages of ‘!!’ as a comment on people’s posts.
The standalone double exclamation marks are a fast, easy and efficient way to connote the shock that someone is soliciting. It’s a quick way to give people what they want, and its brevity suggests you are so overcome you cannot even begin to form words, while also not quite reaching the childlike wonder of a ‘Wow’.
“Just smoked DMT with my grandma”
“On holiday I had group sex with a bunch of farmhands in a barn!”
PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE USE OF ‘LOL’
Cara’s point about bullying stands but sometimes people are actually straight up dicks on Facebook and, often, you have much more interesting things to do – like recording your own cover of Rihanna’s “Work” in received pronunciation – than sit and argue the toss with them about it. If someone is being obnoxious you can take the edge off your righteous criticism by adding a carefree ‘LOL’ at the end of your comment. “This is actually low-key vile and really transphobic LOL.” See? It keeps things light and friendly.
This short response can be used to hyperbolically invite a friend to delete their own content because its tone or subject matter is materially embarrassing. For example, if a friend posts something like, “I’ve never seen the appeal of Stevie Nicks,” or “I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful boyfriend, happiest girl in the world,” try and respond quickly before anyone else, saying only ‘delete this’. It’ll let them know they’re talking excruciating gibberish and they’ll thank you kindly for this act of care.
This involves appropriating the language of the internet misogynist, who cannot help but respond to any image of a woman without commenting as to whether he ‘would’ sleep with her. It can be a fun response to selfies posted by close male friends. I have one good friend who has not had one photo of himself posted to Facebook in the past year that does not bear a comment by me underneath repeating, yet again, that I wouldn’t shag him. It’s important that men get to taste the salt of patriarchy once in a while – call it vigilante justice.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
We’ve all been there – the selfie’s up on the timeline, the generous political musing in your status has gone live. Fifteen minutes have passed. Beads of sweat form. It’s dying. You can see several good friends are online – but nothing from them. Eighteen minutes. You want the earth to swallow you up. Maybe someone famous has died? At 26 minutes your face is sheet white and you shout at anyone around you who interrupts your patient glare at your phone screen. At 29 minutes, you delete the post in humiliation. When you’re this attention seeking, remember: a dislike button is the least of your worries. It’s silence that truly crushes.
Follow Shon Faye on Twitter here @shonfaye