The Power Of “Likes”: What Facebook’s New Features Can Tell Us


At the end of February, Facebook, the social media giant, launched the use of emotions in order to provide greater variability to the “like” function on its website. Having five different emotions, being Wow, Angry, Sad, Love, and Haha, it allows users to now provide more specific emotions to certain posts.

Although Facebook is generally regarded as the medium through which normal people exchange news, photos and etc. with their close acquaintances and friends, the popularity of social media in modern communications has caused it to become a key indicator of social perceptions and opinions against certain items and figures. The power of social media to act as a signifier of such opinion has caused several movements to be deemed “Facebook Revolutions”, with prominent protests such as the 2011 Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions being deemed as part of this classification.

The recent addition of emotions has added a new definition to analyzing Facebook’s demonstration of popular opinion, especially in the case of political and popular figures. As these features are unable to be deleted off of one’s profile unlike other items such as comments, it makes it a rather objective gauge in terms of public opinion. As of February 28th, the top two political leaders that accumulated the most angry-emojis were Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying, and Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, with 170,000+ and 74,000+ angry emojis respectively. This towers immensely over other leaders, such as President Barack Obama (44 angry emojis), UK Prime Minister David Cameron (44 angry emojis), and even the controversial Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump (1600+ Angry Emojis).

Further defining this reaction, the placement of such angry emojis within their respective Facebook profiles also adds further definition to the nature of their unpopularity. As seen in Leung Chun-Ying and Najib Razak’s profiles, pictures or posts of the leaders doing generic activities unassociated with their political positions, such as participating at banquets or changing of their cover photo have received thousands of angry emojis. An example would be Leung Chun-Ying’s first post since the development of the emoji likes, which was of himself attending a Lunar New Year Banquet organized by the Employer’s Federation of Hong Kong. Having accumulated 11,000 “likes” in a couple hours after being posted, 97% of such “likes” carried the angry emoji. Such an equal dispersing of angry emojis among all posts highlights clear unpopularity of the figure in general, both in their political position and career, but more importantly also within the values and policies which they embody. In comparison, the profiles of other controversial figures, such as Donald Trump, generally had their angry emojis positioned towards posts regarding their political activities or specified positions, such as his post concerning the statistics of his lead in the Republican Party. Such an application of emojis shows a clear differentiation between the person and their political activities, even if both are unpopular and controversial.

The patterns as exhibited by social media can be clearly used to reassess the inner workings of popular opinion and to analyse the connection between popular leaders and the general populace as seen through social media. The appearance of such patterns regarding the use of Facebook likes can be used as tools in predicting certain symptoms preceding civil unrest and perhaps up to and including violence. As anger and frustration with political leaders can be examined in patterns regarding both the unpopularity of the people through the positioning of these new likes, the prevalence or absence of similar patterns in both Facebook and other Social Media outlets can be used as a tool processing threats going into the future.