Thanks to the magic of the internet, I often listen to Francophone radio stations while working (most often French and Swiss—Radio-Canada doesn’t support streaming outside its own apps and sites). This is a great way to keep up with my French, and because there seems to be a minigenre of Francophone songs critiquing social media (Stromae’s Carmen comes to mind, but there’s at least one other whose name I can’t remember right now), it sometimes ends up being professionally relevant as well.
I heard a new-to-me song from this genre this morning: Fragile, by Soprano. All the lyrics are interesting, but what stood out to me was one particular line:
Etre aimée c’est d’être likée
In English, this translates as “to be loved is to be ’liked’,” but there are two complications with that translation. First, aimer can be translated as both “to like” and “to love.” Second, now that everybody knows that the second word, aimée comes from the French verb aimer (“to like/to love”), the last word in that line ought to look peculiar. There’s clearly some English influence in there (likée from to like), but while there are a lot of English loanwords in French, this one has a very specific history—as far as I’ve been able to tell, it refers specifically to Facebook’s Like button (and similar features on other platforms).
In short, there are two different verbs in this French lyric where there would only be one in English, and that is really interesting! First of all, it’s immediately interesting in the way that it makes the message of the lyric more clear: “to be loved is to be ’liked’ on Facebook.” I don’t know if that’s as clear from the English translation, but it’s immediately obvious from the French lyrics. The second reason it’s clear is the way that it echoes a comment I always come back to from José van Dijck’s The Culture of Connectivity:
What goes for people also holds for ideas or things that can be “liked”: likability is not a virtue attributed consciously by a person to a thing or idea, but is the result of an algorithmic computation derived from instant clicks on the Like button. However, there is no quality assessment built into these buttons: online quantification indiscriminately accumulates acclamation and applause, and, by implication, deprecation and disap- proval. The choice for a “like” button betrays an ideological predilection: it favors instant, gut-fired, emotional, positive evaluations.
This is part of a broader conversation about how social media platforms redefine commonly understood social activites (like “liking”, friendships, etc.) into algorithmic terms. Because these terms are separate in French, this idea is clear in this kind of lyric in a way that it wouldn’t be in English—it’s almost as though a French Facebook user has a linguistic advantage for critical evaluation of the platform.
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