Anyone on Facebook lately may have noticed that the “laughing face emoji” — one of seven symbols users can click to respond to a post — is doing a lot of work.
While the other six emojis still have straightforward meanings, the yellow circle with two closed eyes and an open mouth, shaking with mirth, now has a new, edgier use.
The thumbs-up means “like,” the heart means “love,” the sad face means “this saddens me,” the wide-eyed face registers surprise, and the frowning red face means a user is so angered by a post that they are in danger of having a heart attack on the spot.
In April 2020, Facebook added a new “care” emoji, in which a face with a “see how much I care” expression clutches a red heart to its bosom.
Everyone clicks according to their taste and appetite for conflict. I confess that, no matter how much I may actually care, I cannot bring myself to click the “care” emoji. Doing so may cause me to vomit on myself, and I still have a lot of things to do, like make lunch for the kids.
I mainly stick to “likes” for happy domestic events: a child’s birthday, for example, or a couple that still appears to be on speaking terms after ten years of marriage.
Scrolling through Facebook, I find that few users opt to click on the “angry” face, which expresses naked hostility and rage.
But more and more are clicking on the laughing emoji, which now expresses one of two things:
“That photo of your toddler and/or dog is hilarious! Thanks for sharing, as we could all use a good laugh!”
Or: “This post is ridiculously wrong, and you are full of it.”
This second meaning feels very au courant in 2020. I get a lot of news posts in my feed, and most are accompanied by multiple yellow faces convulsed in laughter.
Government directives, such as the latest round of restrictions on businesses and personal behavior, are the second most-ridiculed posts. These are often followed by a long string of comments, in which Facebook users duke it out (pro-mask v. anti-mask; school closure advocates v. school reopening advocates; people working from home v. people unable to work from home) in a blizzard of invective and mockery.
In the comment section, too, the laughing face is everywhere, performing its arguably subversive purpose. My guess is that Facebook invented it so that their users could laugh with.
But that’s mostly gone out the window, and now they are laughing at.
Because, now more than ever, we could all use a good laugh. In August 2020, the Pew Research Center reported that “no more than half of U.S. adults have confidence in journalists to act in the best interests of the public.”
That same month, a Gallup survey found that “[f]ewer than one in five Americans express confidence in Congress, television news and big business. This is the 14th consecutive year that Congress is the lowest-ranked institution.” In September 2020, the Pew Research Center announced that only 20 percent of U.S. adults trust the federal government to consistently “do the right thing.”
Facebook itself is not immune to the collapse of Americans’ trust in their institutions, a phenomenon that’s grown over the years and, at the end of 2020, seems more intensely felt than ever. In September 2020, researchers found that Americans trusted Facebook the least of all social media platforms.
Yet millions remain on the site, reluctant to cut social media ties to family members or be forced to watch TV anchors report the news.
So here we are: Glumly scrolling through news we don’t trust, on a social media platform we don’t trust, to keep up with the latest edicts from a government we don’t trust. No wonder some brave soul realized that one click on an emoji could serve to publicly announce: “The emperor has no clothes!”
Once I figured this out, it was only a matter of time before I mockingly laughed at a post on Facebook. I’m a nice lady who doesn’t want any trouble, but once in a while, even I am pushed beyond my limits.
In both cases — and I am trying to hold the line at two clicks — the Facebook poster urged some changes to the English language. Certain words should be discontinued, they explained, because these words were “insensitive.” They should be replaced by new, made-up words that would not injure anyone’s delicate feelings.
“Everyone stop using words I don’t like, m’kay?”
As a writer, I see things like this and feel my blood pressure rise. My cursor hovers over the “angry” face: the emoji so irate, only a lunatic would say: “This speaks for me!”
No, never mind. I will not stoop to using the angry emoji. Get a hold of yourself! Scroll on! This has nothing to do with you! It’s not your fight!
But the thing is, no one else has commented on this insane post. They are too cautious, too well-mannered. They do not want to show their hand.
If we all pretend this is a harmless, reasonable request — “Hey, strangers, stop using ordinary words in your native tongue, because that makes you a bad person” — we will soon be living in a dystopian novel.
All of us will be like: “Whoa. What happened? One day I was allowed to use all the words, and the next day I could only use, like, ten words!”
What happened was, you didn’t click the “get bent, fool” emoji when you had the chance!
Doing my part for truth, justice, and the American way, I clicked the “laughing face” and nervously scrolled on. Would strangers on Facebook demand to know what my problem was? Would they track me down and throw rocks at my house?
But nothing happened. Twice, I expressed my true opinion and got away without a scratch.
(Might there be a third time? Stop me before I laugh again!)
In an old joke set in feudal times, a messenger rushes into the throne room of a king.
“Sire, the peasants are revolting!”
The king replies drily: “You can say that again.”
This, in a nutshell, is what’s playing out in America right now. It’s fascinating and horrifying to observe, like driving by a ten-car pileup on the freeway.
I hope the country can find its way out of this mess.
Meanwhile, I now find I struggle to trust ordinary assertions.
“It’s going to rain tomorrow.” Oh, really? What do you think I am, a chump?
Or: “One serving of microwavable mac-and-cheese is 850 calories. This box contains six servings.”
No way. Where is the laughing emoji when you need it?
Featured image: Shutterstock
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