Sep 14, 2018

Coye Cheshire on the Language of Facebook

From The Daily Cal

Culture of subtlety: On the language of Facebook

By Candace Chiang

In 2016, Facebook rolled out a whole new system of “liking” posts: reaction emojis. With it, users could “love” hilarious posts, “haha” relatable memes and “wow” facts they never knew. And while these reactions have certainly served their purpose well, providing analytics for companies to know what’s going well and allowing a richer range of emotion to be displayed, they have come with subtle but loaded meanings. Now, simply liking someone’s post implies a sort of indifference — perhaps the person is not a good friend of yours, or your post just isn’t interesting enough to people. On the other hand, a “love” often means that the person is a good friend of yours or just someone with whom what you’ve written resonates strongly.

As social interactions have largely shifted to online, it’s become harder to discern a person’s feelings or motivations. There are no longer the social cues we have in real life: fidgeting hands for nervousness, furrowed eyebrows for distress, different smiles for politeness and for happiness. There’s no longer the ability to leave awkward conversations without seeming rude and no longer the tones in voice we use to express our emotions.

As UC Berkeley School of Information professor Coye Cheshire points out, the reality of the interaction is called into question.

“People end up picking up lots of signals and other information that they infer about the (interlocutor) through these kinds of online platforms,” Cheshire said...

“People will make … sort of snap judgments where they see very little information, so they might fill in the gaps negatively or positively … based on the few things they’ve said. In online interactions, there’s just a ton of opportunities to misunderstand people and to potentially misread signals,” Cheshire elaborates...

With all the experience I now have in this language, I’ve realized the extent of my own tendencies to make what Cheshire calls “snap judgments” of people just based off what I see in their profile...


Coye Cheshire is an associate professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information. He studies social exchange, cooperation, trust, and interpersonal relationships in computer-mediated environments.

Last updated:

December 3, 2018