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What’s Not to Like? Using the Facebook ‘Like’ to Connect, Commune, Endorse

February 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
NewsHour's political editor Christina Bellantoni joins Daily Download's Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz to discuss the ins and outs of 'liking' someone or something on Facebook as part of the NewsHour's continuing conversations about the digital world's cultural impact.
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RAY SUAREZ: Next: another of our conversations about the digital world’s cultural impact.

NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni is here with our Daily Download team.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Chances are these days that when you log into Facebook, you will be asked to like just about anything, from a brave police dog to a mom fighting bullying. Is this trend just another online popularity contest, or does it mark a societal shift?

We explore the question with two journalists from the website Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek‘s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Lauren, Howie, thank you for being here.

HOWARD KURTZ, Newsweek/CNN: Thank you.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: And this is a question we want to explore. Let’s start at the beginning.

What does it mean when you log into Facebook and are asked to like something?

LAUREN ASHBURN, Daily-Download.com: Well, it basically means you give it a thumbs up. And you endorse either the product or you endorse the picture that someone has posted, or you just simply like what the other person is saying.

HOWARD KURTZ: And it’s kind of Facebook’s democracy in action.

And now certain people are tapping into it. And you have a picture, I think, of a bunch of kids who wanted a puppy. So, what do they do? Their dad said, if they could just get to one million likes, which is phenomenal, by the way, he would buy them a dog.

LAUREN ASHBURN: What I love about this is that this is what sold it them for them. It says here, “He doesn’t think we can do it.”

And I bet everybody says, oh, yes, dad, you’re buying a puppy.

HOWARD KURTZ: And this isn’t just any dad. It’s Ryan Cordell, who happens to be a digital media professor at Northeastern University, although he studies the 19th century, when things went viral a little differently.

Now, in the age of Facebook, you can get thousands, hundreds of thousands of likes in just a matter of hours.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, what I would like to know is how did this expand from being just your own social network — I saw this photo, but I didn’t know these people — to the world and going viral? How does that happen so quickly?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, I think you post something on your site. And then someone reposts it on to theirs. And it becomes part of this larger network, which is how those children were able to get seven — in seven hours a million likes.

HOWARD KURTZ: And then other kids, of course, ask for a cat or a turtle. And the ones who wanted a cat got the cat because they got 131,000 likes.

I think it’s the digital equivalent of when you’re around the water cooler in the office, hey, did you see this? And when people see something like that, oh, it’s cute. Let’s put the picture up. So, even though we don’t know these kids, everybody got to know them.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, the one thing I loved is, “If I get to a million likes, my wife agreed to name my son Megatron.”

LAUREN ASHBURN: But he only got 1,000 likes.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Wow.

HOWARD KURTZ: And some of these — some of these are people having fun. And there have been some hoaxes. So not everybody takes it that seriously. But the kids who wanted the puppy, they took it seriously.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: So, we’re seeing it in other things. You have got some examples in the media, in politics. Where else are you seeing this?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Vitamin water was one of the first companies that actually decided to try to do this.

HOWARD KURTZ: Started a competition to help create a new drink flavor, but you had to like vitamin water in order to participate.

And then one fan, she won $5,000 dollars for helping to design or name the black cherry with lime flavor. So companies reaching out — we have seen it in politics. We talked about that a lot during the campaign. But now it has spread just to little children as well.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: And what about a dislike button? Facebook doesn’t allow that, right?

LAUREN ASHBURN: No.

It’s called an opt-out …

LAUREN ASHBURN: Right. It’s called an opt-out from the privacy setting. There’s a very serious issue here about privacy.

When you get on to Facebook, they have you say, click, I agree to terms of service. And when Facebook is concerned, you really need to read those terms of service, because your likes can even be turned into ads.

HOWARD KURTZ: Without your knowledge. But I think there should be a dislike button. I think that people should be able to vote up or down.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: On everything.

Well, and this is — obviously creates some complications within families. Oh, you didn’t like my picture yesterday. What happens? So we’re finding actually that some people seem to be a little overloaded on Facebook, right? You have some data…

LAUREN ASHBURN: And they’re taking a vacation from Facebook; 61 percent in the new Pew study, as you can see here, are taking a break from Facebook.

HOWARD KURTZ: Of several weeks or more — a vacation, virtually.

And there’s another 20 percent who were on Facebook, not anymore. And the question is, Lauren, why are they bailing out?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Why are they bailing out?

I mean, I think we could just have a discussion around this table about why we would want to bail out of social media. But I actually posted this on my Facebook page. And I think you have it on yours as well, that the reason, in addition to the ones that the study has, are the fact that you don’t like what people are saying politically.

We saw that a lot during the campaign season, that it is affecting your family life, that you are obsessed. And you are spending too much time on social media and Facebook while your 3-year-old child is drawing on your carpet.

HOWARD KURTZ: Facebook fatigue could be a factor, but I also just think that some people are just bored with it. Facebook has been around now.

It’s got a billion users worldwide. I don’t think it has quite the buzz factor that it used to. So, some people may say, well, I can go on my mobile gadget and do other things, play other games, go on other social networks. Facebook has competition now.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And a lot of people say that Twitter, too, Christina, has almost usurped the place of Facebook in terms of getting information.

I think Facebook is now much more family-oriented and that your network is really your network of friends. But Twitter is where, if you’re a journalist, or anyone else …

HOWARD KURTZ: Public person or a politician.

LAUREN ASHBURN: A public person — you can get — disseminate information.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: In short little bursts there.

And then, of course, you have got the social media app Instagram, where people can just share their photos via their devices. You can eliminate the Facebook middleman.

Is the data showing any difference with age range here?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Yes, I think so.

The older folks are deciding that they have tried it, right, and then they don’t like it. Twenty percent of them have said, I’m not going back. My mother is included in that. I mean, she didn’t like the privacy limitations.

HOWARD KURTZ: Your privacy, but whereas younger people grew up with Facebook when they were in college. I think, to them, whether they’re addicted to it or not, it is like the electric utility. They need to be wired into that.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, we will be keeping an eye on that.

Thank you very much, Howie, Lauren. Appreciate your time.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Have you taken a break from Facebook? What drove you to give it up? You can share your story using our open thread for discussion. Find that at NewsHour.PBS.org.