"We know it's a big change," said Facebook product manager Sammi Krug in an announcement today. That's right—Facebook is taking its relationship with you to the next level. From now on, you'll be allowed to respond to posts with reactions other than the ubiquitous thumbs-up emoji that means "like."
Your five options (other than thumbs up) will be emoji that mean "love," "haha," "sad," "angry," and "wow."
The dramatic change has been brewing for the past year while the company carefully considered which emotions it would allow people to express:
We have been conducting global research including focus groups and surveys to determine what types of reactions people would want to use most. We also looked at how people are already commenting on posts and the top stickers and emoticons as signals for the types of reactions people are already using to determine which reactions to offer.
When Facebook first started testing reactions in Spain last year, the service also offered "yay." No word on why "yay" didn't make the cut. Facebook also chose to ignore the overwhelming demand for a thumbs down "dislike" emoji. Maybe "sad" and "angry" cover some reasons why we might dislike something, but they aren't the same as an option that allows you to say something straight-up sucks.
I think we can be fairly certain that the choice of these five new reactions is part of Facebook's ongoing campaign to enforce positivity on its network. In 2014, Facebook published the results of a study its researchers had done on "emotional contagion." Random users' feeds were manipulated so that some saw fewer emotionally positive posts from their friends and some saw fewer emotionally negative ones. A clear pattern of emotional contagion emerged, with the people who saw fewer positive posts far less likely to post positive posts themselves; the same went for people who saw fewer negative posts.
Armed with this kind of information, it's clear why Facebook would emphasize positive "reactions" and limit negative ones to what are basically the "I" statements of emoji—as in, "I feel sad" or "I feel angry," as opposed to "you suck." Given that a 2014 study showed that harassers prefer to stalk their victims on Facebook over other social networks, it may be that Facebook could use a little more positivity these days.