How ‘Like’ Has Been Semantically Neutered by Facebook

Until (very) recently, I consistently resisted the practice of ‘liking’ events on facebook which had a negative tangent. The number of times I have seen people ‘liking’ a breakup or ‘liking’ a ominous event has far surpassed any number I could keep a count of, and every time I found this happening I questioned the sanity of the people who clicked the button.

But this all changed recently when a favourite hip-hop artist of mine, Brother Ali, began to post up on his page memories of an immensely talented rapper (also on the Rhymesayers label), Michael ‘Eyedea’ Larson (of Eyedea & Abilities), who had recently (and tragically) passed in his sleep. Cue a torrent of comments and ‘likes’ – mine included.

What I realised is that the ‘like’ button has either separated from the semantic loading of the lexeme (word) ‘like’, or that the word its self has been ‘neutered’ by the Facebook platform. My clicking ‘like’ did not, as I had felt previously, signal my joy at this event. While Eyedea wasn’t my favourite artist, I did really (and will continue to) love his music. My like was signaling my agreement in the feelings of a lot of the respondents.

The semantic content of ‘like’ has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into a different meaning. Devoid of polarity, ‘like’ has simply (or not) come to signal involvement, recognition, affiliation etc. While people like me will struggle with this for some time, the Gen Z kids will come to see this as normal.

But it isn’t organic language change – the digital revolution has put a death to that. Common usage no longer dictates how words evolve over time. The frameworks which we interact with online are now having a significant effect on the way our language is shaped and moulded. This is a fascinating development, and while it is not a revelation, it is the most salient example of this phenomenon that I have yet come across.

This would of course not be complete without a tribute to the late Eyedea. Brother Ali chose an awesome video with which to showcase the man’s incredible and unfathomable lexical creativity. RIP Eyedea, you were one of the best.

Share Button