How Darwin’s Ideas Shaped Facebook’s New Reactions

February 25, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Facebook Reactions
Photo credit: Facebook

Can emotions really be universal?

Facebook is famous for its iconic like button. The function has been picked up by other social media platforms like Pinterest and Twitter but has been kept pretty much the same — until now.

Facebook has moved on from the testing stage and has released five new reactions that can be used instead of the like button: Love, wow, haha, sad, and angry. Of course, like is also still available as a button. The Yay Reaction pictured below disappeared along the way because it wasn’t being used in some of the testing countries, but the others are now available around the world.

When Facebook first started adding emoticons to their services — originally in Facebook Messenger — they sought help from researcher Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. Along with Pixar designer Matt Jones, they created the face we have grown to recognize and called it Finch.

What does any of this have to do with Darwin? In 1872 he wrote a book entitled “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” in which he described more than 50 emotions that he characterised as universal. These were used as the jumping-off point to create Finch’s 40 emotions that were pared down to 16 in the lab.

When it came time to create the faces for the reactions, Keltner and his team were called upon once again, and they created 43 reactions from which the five newly released ones were chosen.

SEE ALSO: Emojis are Creating a Universal Language

““Reactions, I believe, come straight out of Darwin,” Keltner told Popular Science. “The artistic rendering process that led to Finch and had great influence on Reactions is very much rooted in science and anatomy.”

One of the challenges that Facebook came across while designing these emoticons was finding universal emotions that could be easily represented using nothing but a face. Keltner felt that it would be easier to recognise the emotions if the face was given arms, bodies or sound effects, but that didn’t happen in the end. They were tested in seven different countries prior to their worldwide release and then translated into the many languages Facebook is available in.

The work is far from done: “We’re going to continue, after we’ve launched the entire world, to get so many data points back, and the team will learn and iterate,” Sammi Krug, who led the Reactions team, said to Popular Science.

It might seem like Facebook is just adding these reactions for the sake of differentiating itself from other social media platforms, but I’m looking forward to being able to better respond to the posts I read. It has always been a bit confusing to know how to react when you read a sad, yet heartfelt post. For example, do you like it to show your support, or would that mean that you are happy about the sad news?

It probably doesn’t come as much surprise, but according to Mic, Facebook confirmed that they will use the data they get from your reactions to tailor your news feed even more specifically to what they can learn about you. Now, they won’t just know what you like or dislike — they will know how you feel.

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