Whatever the new Facebook feature, Hong Kong's political divide cannot be 'disliked' into oblivion

Alice Wu says resolving the city's quarrels over constitutional reform demands more of us than pushing a "like" or "dislike" button on Facebook. Such oversimplification must be resisted

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2015, 9:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2015, 9:31am

To "like" or not to "like"? That is the question - until Facebook unveils some version of the "dislike" button, which Mark Zuckerberg said last week it is almost ready to do.

Until then, we continue to grapple with - pardon the liberties taken with the Bard's words - whether 'tis nobler in the mind to not like / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to succumb to the pressures of social interaction / And, by liking, get more likes back.

It's no exaggeration to say that a simple "like" button on a social media platform has engendered a sea of angst about human relationships. According to the study, "The social significance of the Facebook Like button", by Veikko Eranti and Markku Lonkila, we "like" a post or a page for all sorts of complicated reasons - "to develop, maintain, and end social relationships and conversations, to get involved … to balance between sometimes contradictory expectations … and to build and maintain a face [for our audience]".

Given the complex mental and psychological processes that go into a push of the "like" button, one wonders whether we are seeing the regression of human interaction. Have we reduced deep conversations and meaningful exchanges to a binary medium?

Have we reduced deep conversations and meaningful exchanges to a binary medium?

It's easy to succumb to social pressure. Peer validation is important, but it discourages introspection. And when it comes to politics, we must stay clear of oversimplification. We may not "like" a politician, a policy, the general political atmosphere, the results of a vote or election, or being governed in the first place. But we can't reduce life and all its messiness to just "like" or "dislike". Was that not the point of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan? People didn't like what he had to say, but they have come to accept the need for governance.

The question we should ask is: does everything really just boil down to an instant like or dislike? What happens to the 50 shades of ambivalence in between? What happens to the right to keep our likes and dislikes to ourselves? And what happens to our prerogative to change our minds?

For the truly simple things in life, maybe a spur-of-the-moment like or dislike is all that is needed (for instance, deciding if we want coffee or tea). But for the rest of life - those "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" - we can't "like" something into existence or "dislike" something into oblivion.

Some of us may think that we have somehow "disliked" - albeit with love and peace - the last constitutional reform package into oblivion, but it will come back to haunt us sooner or later. We merely delayed the need to deal with it by not "liking" it.

The August 31 framework is still there, written in stone. And as we approach the first anniversary of the Occupy Central protests, this is the sort of reality that we have to think about, and it's definitely not a matter of liking or disliking, whatever the intensity of the feeling of either.

We still haven't paid the full price for Occupy Central. If we have learned anything from it, it is that we can easily be swept up by the tsunami of heightened and oversimplified emotions. We "like" quickly and we "hate" too quickly. We befriend and "unfriend" someone instantaneously. We close our minds to differences and alternatives. We back ourselves into a corner, and we are stuck in that corner, trying to debate the meaning of "one country, two systems".

Zuckerberg is right that not every moment is a good moment. But having a "dislike" button is no substitute for those unlikeable moments that require care and thought. And when it comes to the issues we face as a community - in real life - reacting only in "like" or "dislike" creates its own problems.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA