Why Mark Zuckerberg Thinks It’s Better to Be Understood Than Liked

We’re living in an age when it is often hard to communicate our true opinions.

We rely on digital means of communication more and more, and those channels are not that nuanced. A text message or tweet doesn’t convey emotion in most cases (even with emojis). On social media, it’s a bit cloudy at times because there are so many posts, so many comments, and so many opinions.

That’s why, in a recent interview with Lester Holt and NBC News, it was interesting when the famous co-founder of Facebook made a statement about how we communicate. Toward the end of the interview, Mark Zuckerberg said it is more important to be understood than liked.

This from the inventor of the “like” on social media.

“I get that a lot of people are angry at us. Part of growing up for me is that it is more important to be understood than to be liked,” he said. “This is who I am.”

In the report, Holt said the social media company wants to be more proactive than reactive. That’s an interesting way to end the report, especially given the many hurdles Facebook has had to jump over. Privacy issues, campaign meddling, cyberbullying. There’s no question the company has had to go into reaction mode because every post and every “like” seems to generate even more chaos and a greater need for policing.

The statement about understood versus like is one for the ages.

Like implies instant and total agreement on any topic, with no added background. When a user on Facebook clicks like, it only communicates about 5% of their intent and opinion on the matter. (Incidentally, that’s one reason Facebook introduced an array of possibilities beyond a simple like a few years ago, including one that expresses disagreement or anger but falls short of an actual dislike button.) Nuance is not one of social media’s strong suits, and neither is the original limitation to allow only 140 characters on Twitter (since increased to 280). 

Everyone is constantly agreeing or disagreeing in short and unmoderated bursts, and apparently without an abundance of forethought or empathy even though literally every topic under the sun has multiple angles and is open to interpretation.

The problem is that Zuckerberg doesn’t offer a solution. He is merely noting the problem — we all know understanding is the goal, and that “like” is superficial. 

Now for the hard part.

As social media continue to mature (along with Zuckerberg, who is now 35-years-old), it will be important to figure out how to foster understanding more than agreement. It’s partly a technical challenge, but it also will require mass agreement about fixing what is obviously broken. Nuance is hard. Understanding takes work.

Here’s hoping he figures that all out.