Facebook posts are typically measured by the number of likes and comments they accumulate, but the Mountain View, Calif.-based social network is reportedly working on a new button to counterbalance the “Like.”

This rumored “sympathize” button, according to Facebook software engineer Dan Muriello, would not be available for every Facebook post, but would somehow activate based on Facebook’s ability to detect the emotional quotient of the post, which would allow people to “sympathize with” a status, as opposed to simply liking it.

The “sympathize” button would be appropriate for difficult life events regularly chronicled by Facebook’s 1.19 billion users, including job loss, the end of a relationship, or the death of a friend or family member.

Does Facebook Really Need A Sympathize Button?

The “sympathize” button was reportedly imagined by a Facebook engineer during one of the company’s popular “hackathons,” where Facebook engineers spend hours hacking and experimenting with new features and ideas for the social network. Many other Facebook products, including the Like button and the Wall, were created by the company’s internal hackathons.

“Some of the best ideas come from hackathons,” Muriello said. “The many ideas that don’t get pursued often help us think differently about how we can improve our service.”

The “sympathize” button sounds like a gentler, more indirect version of the rumored “dislike” button, which Facebook had never seriously considered but was an idea supported by thousands of Facebook users back in 2009. Facebook originally ruled out the “dislike” button because it was too negative for the platform, but when you examine the issue Facebook was trying to correct – how can Facebook users acknowledge their fellow friends’ statuses without necessarily “liking” them? -- a “dislike” button or a “sympathize” button would certainly be useful.

A “sympathize” button would have wide implications for Facebook. The “Like” button applies to a wide range of statements and statuses, but adding a “sympathize” button could lead to a slippery slope for Facebook. Users might complain that the two symbols don’t nearly cover the full range of possible emotional responses, which could provoke Facebook users into campaigning for more buttons, like buttons for “TMI” or “Eye Roll.” However, it’s also possible Facebook users could use the “sympathize” button inappropriately for statuses about good news, perhaps to bully, undermine, or ridicule the person; obviously, Facebook is a hotbed for online bullying, and despite efforts to curb teasing and taunting on the network, creating a “negative” button might inflame Facebook’s bullying issues even further.

Facebook will have plenty of time to address these and any other issues surrounding the “sympathize” button; according to Muriello, Facebook has no strict timeline for rolling out the “sympathize” feature.

“We made a decision that it was not exactly the right time to launch [the sympathize button],” Muriello said. “Yet.”

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