Back in 2016, recognizing that the range of human emotion extended beyond either "like" or "agnostic," Facebook went beyond the thumbs up, introducing a slew of new reaction options: the heart; the face shedding a single tear; the fuming, red-orange angry face; the mouth-agape WOW face; and, finally, a laughing face, eyes closed, mouth caught in mid guffaw.
It's that last one that turns my own face red-orange-angry.
At first, adding a laughing face seemed a perfect fit for Facebook: I like to make jokes on Facebook. I like when people laugh at my jokes. This is how I get my emotional validation as a person.
Yet the laughing face has been pressed into service for a more sinister purpose: Derisive mockery of sincere statements.
Anyone who's waded into the ugly fray of Facebook arguments — just scroll down the Inlander Facebook page — has watched this happen. One commenter throws out an argument, and another, instead of giving an earnest response, slaps down a laughing-face reaction instead.
The meaning is obvious: Your argument is so foolish, so stupid, that I'm actually laughing.
The angry face doesn't make me angry. It's raw and honest, at least. But the laughing face taps into a primal sort of rage. Nobody likes being dismissed or disrespected. Nobody likes being laughed at. But make no mistake, Facebook's laughing face emoji is laughing at you, and it's doing so in a way far more infuriating than simply a written-out "ha ha" or "lol."
Often, it has to do with the subtleties of the design: Heck, it's only a slight shift away from my favorite emoticon of all time:
Awww, look at that little guy. He's giddy. He's gleeful. This is the face your dad makes at the kids when he's proud of a groan-worthy pun.
But close an emoji's eyes in order to communicate laughter — as if he's laughing so hard he can't even see what you've written — and it feels aggressive. The sort of thing that caused Carrie to go ballistic at her prom.
In a 2016 Guardian piece, Abi Wilkinson raised similar complaints about how some jerks were using the crying-with-laughter emoji to react to very real tragedies.
"There's something about this particular character — with its broad, cackling grin and the performatively prominent tears of mirth — that just feels inherently mocking and cruel," Wilkinson wrote.
Emojis and emoticons were invented to remove the ambiguity from text-based conversations. And it's worked, making one thing crystal clear: People are assholes. ♦