This is definitely something worth keeping an eye on – according to reports, Facebook’s testing out a new ‘Downvote’ option on comments, similar to the system at play on Reddit.
That could be a big deal, particularly when you consider that Facebook’s latest News Feed re-focus is intended to better promote ‘posts that generate conversation between people’ – i.e. those that inspire comments.
It also seems to go against Facebook’s previously stated logic for avoiding a dislike button. Back before Facebook launched Reactions, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that they had looked into adding a dislike option – one of the platform’s most requested features – but had decided not to because it would potentially bring a negative element to the Facebook process.
"...some people have asked for a Dislike button because they want to be able to say 'That thing isn't good' and that's not something that we think is good for the world. So we're not going to build that […] I don't think that's socially very valuable or good for the community to help people share the important moments in their lives."
Technically, the possibility of a ‘Downvote’ option on comments side-steps this a little, as Zuckerberg was more referring to posts, in which people are sharing their original thoughts and ideas. Comments are a lesser version of that, a reaction to the initial post, and as such, maybe that also lessens the potential impact of negativity, at least in Facebook’s view.
But still, at a time when Facebook’s pushing its community values and its efforts in contributing to making the world a better place, does a negative voting mechanism like this really fit?
And that’s before you consider the potential reach implications based on the above-noted News Feed shift. Really, utilizing a user-voted system to uncover the best content makes more sense – anyone who regularly uses Reddit would attest to this.
While on Facebook, an algorithm works to determine the best content, that often leads to errors or mistakes because there’s no human vetting – anytime Facebook’s tried to create an alternative News Feed, for example, it ends up being populated with repeated content and spam because of people who game the system.
On Reddit, that doesn’t happen at anywhere near the same rate, because human moderators oversee the activity, which results in an arguably better user experience.
Adding such an element to Facebook comments could have two significant impacts:
- First, it would bring the top voted comments higher in the listing, which could encourage further interaction based on user votes. Facebook already does this to a degree based on Likes, but by enabling downvotes also, that could help temper more argumentative, self-reinforcing posts, especially within comment sections dominated by specific sub-groups.
- Second, it could make comments into a more competitive element within themselves. On Reddit, there’s a level of achievement tied into being the most upvoted comment, as well as the most upvoted post. If Facebook can bring that element to its own comment section, that could further work to encourage more user interaction – while also giving users a mechanism to vote down the lame jokes or self-promotional efforts.
Downvotes may also be less ‘gameable’. While right now, you can pay for Page Likes, and even post likes, from questionable third-party operators, it would probably be more difficult to sell downvotes as you’d need to effectively downvote all of your potential competition in order to see any gain. Sure, it’s possible that a dodgy business could theoretically reduce a single competitors’ News Feed exposure by paying for a heap of downvotes in their post comments (which, based on the idea of the coming changes, would reduce their reach), but that wouldn’t necessarily boost your own rank, nor that of other Pages who might rank higher anyway.
There’s been no word, as yet, from Facebook as to whether this test is even for real, let alone set to be expanded upon anytime soon, but it’s an interesting concept, with many potential impacts.
We’ll update this post as we receive more information.
UPDATE: TechCrunch has confirmed that the test is legit, though Facebook is framing it more as a feedback option than a 'dislike' tool. Facebook says the intention is to provide an easier way to report inappropriate, uncivil or misleading comments, and currently has no impact on the ranking of the comment, post or Page. There are no plans to expand the test, which is currently available to 5% of Android users in the US.