I heard Ronn Owens this morning on KGO radio (SF) asking people to go to Facebook and “like” his program so you could get updates in your feed. He had to clarify that you didn’t have to really like everything he says, but that’s how it works.
A year ago when Facebook changed “become a fan of” to “like”, I balked at the semantic shift it implied, not just the syntactic one. People who know me know I get hung up on semantics at times, but I’m sticking with this one. The semantics behind “like” are not equivalent to the semantics behind “I’m interested enough in this person/group/brand/company to want to get information from or about them.” Twitter has it right with “Follow”.
I think this actually has a detrimental societal effect. Eli Pariser gave a talk at TED2011 about an increasing tendency of social networks to create “filter bubbles” with unintended consequences. His example is that he (like I) has a number of Facebook friends from all sides of the political spectrum, even though (as a founder of Moveon.org) he himself is left of center. He wants to hear from all sides to best inform him as he considers complex issues. But Facebook in its algorithmic wisdom has decided that since he’s a lefty, they’ll filter out his right-wing friends from his news feed. It’s not just Facebook; Pariser also demonstrated that Google uses a large number of data points before deciding what to show you in its search results. Some of those assumptions are bound to be wrong, and keep you from information that would be useful (or that you actually would like to see).
What does this have to do with Facebook’s “Like”? I believe people will tend not to “Like” people that they don’t really like, even though they may be interested in or benefit from feeds from that person or group. Just as Pariser wants the benefit of friends’ diverse points of view, it should be more natural to “follow” opposing views on Facebook, just as you can follow them on Twitter without an outright declaration of affection, which Facebook forces through their interface.
Update: Facebook has now made the situation even worse. They have equated “Share” with “Like”, so that even if you don’t really like something, but want to share it, Facebook contends that you “Like” it.