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Like, Love, & Haha: Facebook and the New Universal Language of Emojis

by: SilverTech

In case you haven’t heard, the social media buzz is around Facebook this week as they just rolled out some new features centered around the “like” button. Facebook hasn’t changed this feature much since it was first introduced in February 2009, despite users’ strong push for a “dislike” button option years ago. In true Facebook fashion, they made changes on their own time and on their own terms.

After learning about this recent change, I couldn’t help but hop on my News Feed and start “reacting” – as Facebook now calls it – to posts. A good portion of my job requires me to post and monitor social media for SilverTech, so, naturally a part of me became excited about a new feature. Finally, I have a way to express my true feelings toward cute goat videos and outrageous political posts without committing myself too deeply with a comment.

I like (see what I did there?) that Facebook allows users to react in more than one way. For instance, I can still do the traditional “like” but I can also “love,” “haha,” and “wow” the same post, if I feel so inclined. What’s noticeably missing from this emotional lineup, however, is any sort of sign of disagreeance, a “dislike,” for example. It seems Facebook heard users’ cries for a “like” counterpart, a thumbs down “dislike” button, but opted for this seemingly compromise of less negative, more interactive options.

A Brief History of Facebook Updates

Facebook has certainly evolved over its 12 years of existence. We’ve seen it grow from a college student-only network to the largest public networking website of its kind. The new emoji reaction feature, though seemingly innocuous, is akin to the arrival of photos, mobile, and the addition of the News Feed. It will go down as one of the more revolutionary changes we’ve seen over the years.

It’s hard to believe when Facebook first launched in 2004, photos weren’t even a feature – that didn’t come until a year later. In 2006, Mark Zuckerberg and team took a big step before going public … going mobile, which is currently how 44% of their 1.49 billion monthly active users access the site. This same year brought forth Status Boxes which would appear under your name in your profile, typically reading as “Jane Smith is sipping a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato” – of course, with character limits, so you needed to get creative. It also came with a major development that forged the way of the actively-changing look and feel of the site, one that upset the majority of users afraid of change: News Feed and Mini-Feed. Taking on a more Twitter-esque, real time view of its user base, Facebook evolved the ways of the News Feed, taking attention away from the traditional profiles – The Wall – and providing a constant stream of updates. Soon after in 2009, Zuckerberg added a more interactive component to the News Feed and posting features: The Like Button – a feature that has forever changed the way we interact with individuals and brands on Facebook.

In fact, the Facebook Like has become such an important touchpoint between brands and individuals that it has become a baseline for measuring engagement. Individuals can express intent to buy, and brands can make decisions based solely on “likes.” With the addition of the new reactions, individuals can now become more expressive, and brands can gain a deeper understanding of how their content emotionally connects (Love, Haha, and Wow) or misses the mark (Sad and Angry).

A New Universal Language

Though the addition of new characters may not seem like a big deal, it affects how more than one billion people the world over will express themselves. This added range of reactions, like the ubiquitous emoji family to which they belong, may even be part of the next evolution of language. Since  Japanese teenagers first started sending emojis (e-, picture, mo-, writing, ji, character) on their pagers in the late 1990’s, they’ve been used to communicate everything from the mundane and goofy to the literary. Every time we send an emoji across our texts, social networks, and internet communications we’re adding meaning and context to 140 pixels of cuteness. In doing so, we’re contributing to a new universal language that can be understood by Japanese teenagers and American octogenarians alike.

It will be interesting to see what semioticians (emojioticians?) make of these new reactions. Will we find that Europeans use “Wow” ironically, while South Asians use it earnestly? Will the “Sad” reaction become a sincere way to express sadness and empathy? Roland Barthes once implored that “to try to write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.” Perhaps, all he needed was a “Love” reaction and a thumbs up.