Personality Curation – A Response to Facebook Reactions

At the end of February this year, Facebook began to roll out a new “Reactions” feature, allowing users to diversify from the simple “like” and “share” buttons into something a bit more expressive. By now, we’ve had time to gauge what our response to Facebook Reactions might be.

Your Facebook wall will, by now, resemble something a tiny bit more nuanced, as you see options for “love”, “haha”, “wow”, “sad” and “angry” alongside the classic “like” thumbs up in response to Wall posts. But why were users craving this step?

According to Facebook’s January statistics, it counted 1.591 billion monthly Facebook users, with 1.038 billion profiles active daily.[1] With average users spending over twenty minutes on this site alone daily, Facebook usage accounts for almost twenty per cent of all time spent online![2] This upsurge in users alongside time online means that, alongside the countless other platforms most of us use every day, social media users want to curate a more complex online personality. No longer does the old adage, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” hold true – some may lurk anonymously behind their screens, but, more and more, the Internet is becoming a platform for expressing who you are. These six emojis give that little bit more complexity than a simple thumbs-up.

Peter Steiner’s cartoon from The New Yorker 5th July 1993

Millennials and Digital Natives have been brought up with a Postmodern world-view; they are a generation who have been taught caution about Capitalism and optimism about community and co-operation, they have been taught about just how different and various people across the world can be, and they have been taught “authenticity”. All of these, and most importantly the latter, has shaped how Millennials present themselves online. Before a job interview, for example, a Millennial knows the employer will most likely Google their name, check their LinkedIn profile and also browse their social media channels, to verify the persona that their application has put forth. Where the boundary is between an online persona and an authentic personality can be difficult to define, as Millennials become more and more skilful at curating their online persona.

The “real” you?

The time-lapsed nature of a social media response allows the time to shape an answer in a way a face-to-face correspondence does not, so the user can promote the best response from the best version of themselves at that moment. For some, a “Reaction” emoji may be just that – an instantaneous, unguarded reactive response – but for others, curating each response has become a way to build an empire. Along the same lines, users decide what to respond to and what to ignore along channels which fit the shape of their online persona.

The Queen of online personality curation has to be social media addict and chronic over-sharer Kim Kardashian West. Like her or not, Kim has continued her ascension into success and wealth through a constant stream of social media communications to a follower base, constantly allowing fans to get “close” to her – or at least, the personality she has chosen to put forth online. With 66 million Instagram followers (yup, that’s one million more Instagram followers than there are people living in the United Kingdom), almost 43 million Twitter followers and a public page called Kim Kardashian West on Facebook with over 28 million followers, she knows the facets of her online persona that sell, sharing precisely what attracts the most attention from fans and the media alike. Curating herself on social media has created and shored-up the fortunes of the Kardashian brand.

Your life in six emojis…

The trend for personality curation which Kardashian typifies expresses a broader culture at large in the Millennial generation and those younger – to these Digital Natives, the Internet is and always has been an omnipresence, and just another facet to their daily communication. This generation needed more ways to express more emotions on Facebook, in the same restricted time slot. With whole online personalities to curate across countless media, interactions with other peoples’ shares takes a back-seat – users mostly “Like” or use the new “Reactions” emojis as the equivalent of a nod of acceptance and agreement in a large, chatty room, or to show empathy, or to support our own opinions. A “Reaction” emoji allows us to interact with slightly more subtlety in this instantaneous way, but is one step closer to a nuanced human personality than the simple “Like”. Where once we would have had to interact with a post by typing to express anger, humour or shock at its content, we can now click a face and the interaction is complete. Ease and speed are the prerequisites. Clicking an “angry” emoji is quicker than typing out your tirade, and a laughing face easily expresses your response – better than the endemic “LOL”. The ease by which we can respond encourages users to refine responses down to six basic emotions. Whether we see these six emoji options as a more human, empathetic and varied version of the “Like” button, or a path towards simplification and dumbing down our responses into delineated categories is another question.

A world of personalisation

The next stage, which those in marketing and advertising are already anticipating gleefully, is being able to tap into your use of “Reactions” in order to gauge the user’s response to marketing. This would enable these industries to refine who they direct their advertising at, judging by your response to similar content in the past. It could also allow for companies to make the most of social feeling – if Hillary Clinton could know just how many “angry” Reaction faces were being aimed at articles on Donald Trump at the moment, for example, she would have a targeted user base who are perhaps more likely to be favourable to her offering, allowing her to create streamlined, targeted campaigns for these people.

Facebook says that, at the moment, the adverts on your wall are not personalised in this way, but it is only a matter of time before advertising becomes this personalised. After all, we saw this level of advertising personalisation predicted widely about the anticlimactic launch of Google Glass. Whether this leads to the sort of world the Postmodern Millennials favour, though, is a different thing – curated advertising means that the Internet which has, since its inception, been a platform for democracy and unrestricted access could become a place where you only see what you’re already interested in, and will not be exposed to the other global viewpoints with just as much credence or social momentum as yours. Should our response to Facebook “Reactions” be that they are a way to express ourselves more em-pathetically and humanly online, or are they a step towards a more limiting universe where we can only see what we (and our community of like minded individuals) are predicted to like seeing?

[1] Download Facebook statistics from

[2] Facebook user statistics quoted in