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When You Want To Express Empathy, Skip The Emoji

Julie Zhuo, product design director at Facebook, demonstrates the new emoji-like stickers users can press in addition to the like button.
Julie Zhuo, product design director at Facebook, demonstrates the new emoji-like stickers users can press in addition to the like button.

It's finally happened. The plain-old "like" on Facebook has expanded. You can now express love with a heart, convey laughter, astonishment, sadness and anger with an array of expressive little faces. They're emojis, but Facebook has branded them "reactions." According to an article in Forbes ,Facebook said, "we heard from people that they wanted more ways to express themselves on Facebook." In particular, "they didn't have a way to express empathy."

I have nothing against emojis.

When I'm reporting from my base in Brazil, I have had entire wordless conversations on WhatsApp, the ubiquitous messaging app, which Brazilians also happen to love. For making a date with friends, I choose martini glass, question mark? The response I get — handclapping and then clock, question mark. And on and on it goes. Portuguese is a foreign language for me, so having all these emojis is really useful. I mean, everyone understands the emoji for getting a manicure.

Not everyone lives an emoji-obsessed lifestyle, so there have been a number of handy guides published after the Facebook announcement for the emoji impaired among us. Most of it is common sense. The heart emoji is "like" with feeling. The angry face is for outrage. The "wow" is for " most of the things your relatives post."

But I'm just going to come out and say it: emojis aren't empathy. Is a sad face really the appropriate response to a break up? A post about a death in the family?

One of the things the previous lack of options on Facebook forced was actual communication. With words. That you write.

You can be clear about what you mean.

But already I've seen a confusing array of reactions to posts. Why did five people love that cat video but one person make an angry face? If everyone "loves" something, is it rude to just like it?

And how will these new emojis be interpreted by bosses with their strict social media rules? Does empathy equal endorsement?

Wondering about that has ended up occupying a lot of my time this week.

So please, if you follow me on Facebook, send me a note, like my post ... But save your "empathy" and your emojis for someone else.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.