How can Facebook promote meaningful interaction between users? By letting them downvote inappropriate comments to hide them. Facebook is now testing a downvote button on a limited set of public Page post comment reels, the company confirms to TechCrunch. But what Facebook does with signals about problematic comments could raise new questions about censorship, and its role as a news editor and media company.
A Facebook spokesperson tells TechCrunch Facebook that the motivation behind the downvote button is to create a lightweight way for people to provide a signal to Facebook that a comment is inappropriate, uncivil, or misleading.
Here's the statement Facebook provided: "We are not testing a dislike button. We are exploring a feature for people to give us feedback about comments on public page posts. This is running for a small set of people in the U.S. only.”
This is what the downvote button looks like up close:
When tapped, the downvote button hides a comment, and gives users additional reporting options like "Offensive", "Misleading", and "Off Topic". Those could help Facebook figure out if the comment is objectionable, a form of "fake news", or just irrelevant. Facebook already has a "Hide" button for comments, but it's usually hidden behind the drop-down arrow on comments rather than immediately clickable.
Here you can see the downvote button on a comment thread, plus what happens when you click it. The screenshots come from Christina Hudler.
According to Facebook, this is a short-term test that doesn't affect the ranking of the comment, post, or Page. It's designed as a way to give feedback to Facebook, not the commenter, and there will be no publicly visible count of how many downvotes a comment gets. The test is running for 5% of Android users in the U.S. with language set to English. The downvote button only appears on public Page posts, not on posts by Groups, public figures or users. There's currently no plan to expand the test as is.
Not A Dislike Button
A dislike button has long been the most requested Facebook feature, but Facebook has never given in.
Back in 2015, CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to a Q&A question about it, saying:
"We didn’t want to just build a Dislike button because we don’t want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts. That doesn’t seem like the kind of community we want to create."
Instead, Facebook built the Reactions options that let you respond to posts and comments with love, wow, haha, sad or angry emoji. Facebook also built reactions into Messenger with the option to give messages a thumbs-up or thumbs-down so you could show agreement or disagreement.
But the new downvote button is the closest Facebook has come to actually giving people a dislike button. Downvoting was popularized on Reddit for crowdsourcedcomment ranking. Reddit co-founder Alexi Ohanian weighed in on Facebook's version via Twitter:
Sincerest form of flattery! Wish I'd trademarked it and “upvote” when came up with it. 😂😂 https://t.co/wJMxILChCV
— Alexis Ohanian Sr. (@alexisohanian) February 8, 2018
The downvote button ties in with Facebook's recent push to enhance its users' well-being by prioritizing News Feed content that drives meaningful interactions instead of passive, zombie browsing. That led Facebook to show fewer viral videos, which in turn contributed to a 700,000 user decrease in U.S. and Canada daily active users -- its first decline ever anywhere -- and Facebook's slowest DAU growth rate it's ever reported.
But one way Facebook could generate more meaningful interaction without losing time on site could be by ensuring the most interesting comments are at the top of posts. Facebook already ranks comments by relevancy based on Likes and replies. But the downvote button could ensure that if objectionable comments rise up and stall discussion, Facebook will know.
That could eventually lead to a way for Facebook to bury these comments, or the people that post them. However, this will only open up more questions about censorship and what qualifies as inappropriate at a time when Facebook is already struggling to manage its responsibilities as what Zuckerberg calls "not a traditional media company."