The like button ruined the internet. Social media and comment sections have trained us to channel our negative feelings into words, and our positive feelings into likes. So negativity is laid out in detail in the comments and replies, while positivity is compressed into a number. Scrolling through it all, or having it happen to something you post, is exhausting. The solution is simple.
Designer Frank Chimero blames this on social media lacking a dislike button. Of course, a dislike button would cause all kinds of trouble, as it does on Reddit, where “downvotes” bury valuable comments. So there’s only the option to like, or the option to explain that you dislike.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the internet needs a dislike button that doesn’t actually do anything. But as Chimero points out, you have a more immediate personal solution:
Whenever you hit “like,” leave a positive comment
Obvious in retrospect, right? Plenty of people already do this. You might, as I do, scoff at their inane commentary. You might even wish your older relatives would stop commenting “OMG cute!” on your Instagram, and just hit the heart. But those people are doing it right! They’re the ones who seem to actually enjoy the internet, because they spend their time being positive.
You can leave positive comments without being inane. Think about what you liked about the post, and say it. Ask your friend where they got that nice hat, or what they’re up to on vacation. Tell them how much their little life observation means to you. Or, you know, write something that directs your full intelligence toward expressing joy and appreciation.
It makes the original poster feel better
Even if you’re like me, a ghoul who gets annoyed at content-free replies from my loved ones, you still prefer that to actual negative replies. When you post something meaningful or funny, you want to witness people enjoying it. And a number next to a heart is not really going to deliver that. It’s like playing Super Mario for the points.
When someone compliments you, you feel good, you remember it, you might even tell a friend about the nice compliment you got. When someone tells you something nice (or something nasty), you might remember it for years. No one fondly remembers a like.
Next time you hit like, imagine what kind of reaction you’d give in person, and give it in writing. Give them real thoughts and feelings to absorb. Give them compliments—or empathy or agreement—in words that they’ll remember.
It makes you feel better
The more time you spend leaving these positive comments, the less time is left for the negative ones.
I have a terrible habit of joining angry mobs on Twitter. I see some hateful, bigoted tweet, and I just have to reply with a rebuttal or put-down. I try to only do this to people who really deserve to feel bad. But it doesn’t really make me feel good. Even when everyone’s having fun joining the pile-on, there’s a lingering taste of poison. And I’m not accomplishing anything. This behaviour is so common that getting “ratioed” with more replies than likes has become shorthand for having a famously terrible tweet.
But this shit-river of negativity has triggered an opposite behaviour, based on positive replies. On “Prompt Twitter,” someone asks an open-ended question and invites everyone to answer. The tweet gets ratioed with positive comments. Everyone loves to share their opinion, but this time they’re on the same side as the person who got them talking. Everyone’s spending their time on the positivity.
You start a real conversation
“A like can’t go anywhere,” says Chimero, “but a compliment can go a long way.” It can start a conversation, an actual back-and-forth, that breaks you out of the search-and-consume pattern.
Self-made experts on “unplugging” keep claiming that social media makes us lonely, but that’s only true if we only produce and consume and never interact. It’s the mums and aunts and grandpas who are doing it right, using Facebook to keep in touch and constantly chat with all their faraway friends and family. The fans replying to celebrity tweets. The YouTube commenters sharing personal stories under an old music video. The Lifehacker commenters telling me how good this post is.
You’re taking a pleasant or meaningful moment, expanding the space it takes up in your mind, and extending it into new moments. A small, mundane, banal choice that makes life better.