Would a 'Dislike' Option Improve Facebook?
It's one of the most requested, and discussed, potential social media features - a dislike button for Facebook.
Users have been pushing for a dislike option ever since the 'Like' itself was implemented, and Facebook has, at different times, toyed with the idea of rolling out a way for users to voice their disagreement with certain posts and/or comments.
Facebook's most recent experiment on this front came just last year, when it ran a test of an upvote/downvote option for comments, which was intended, according to Facebook, not to offer a means to disagree, but to lessen the impact of comments made with 'bad intentions'.
That test disappeared after a few weeks, and we've not seen anything on it since, but it does show that Facebook is still considering how a downvote/dislike system could work, and whether it could be beneficial for the platform more broadly.
And recently, Reddit user Jamie Tallica suggested another potential option for Facebook dislikes - to stop the spread of hate speech on the platform.
As per Tallica's Reddit post:
"Imagine being a generally ignorant, racist, bigoted idiot and commenting something obscene online? You might post a comment that really offends 18,000 out of 20,000 people, but it shows 2k likes from like-minded idiots. This sends out the wrong message - this tells people who are just passing that the opinion is popular, there's a lack of balance without the effort of commenting and getting involved in a spat. Add a dislike function and suddenly the comment has 2k likes, but 18k dislikes, which tells people that this is an unpopular viewpoint and might make people think twice about what they say, or take a rain check on their attitudes."
That's an interesting suggestion - as Tallica points out in another section of his post, commenting merely opens up argument and leads to further disagreement, whereas being able to simply indicate your dislike of the content, with a quick, unintrusive action, could help to make your position clear - and could see less popular opinions highlighted as such, rather than users being left with the wrong impression of their popularity.
The same could be said of fake news and misinformation - if a user shares a fake news story, you could use a dislike option to indicate that that angle is incorrect. Right now, people will often use the 'Angry' Reaction for this purpose, but 'Angry' can just as easily insinuate that you're angry about the content itself, not the validity of it. A dislike option could help make unpopular angles clearer, in their wider societal context, and may help reduce their spread.
But there are still plenty of reasons why this might not work.
Just recently, YouTube raised the suggestion that it might consider removing its own 'dislike' option in order to stop what's become known as 'downvote mobs' who attack certain content in droves to reduce its perceived popularity, often without even watching the video itself.
YouTube was recently on the receiving end of this, with its 2018 Rewind clip quickly becoming the most downvoted video of all time (currently at 15m downvotes).
Granted, even YouTube's CEO noted that her kids thought it was 'cringey', but the speed at which the video was downvoted, in particular, further raised YouTube's concern at how the downvote option is being essentially weaponized to drown out specific content and limit its distribution. Gather enough of an army and you could reduce the reach of anything, which clearly goes against the intention of a downvote process.
YouTube's director of project management Tom Leung says that removing the dislike option entirely would be an extreme option, but it is something they've discussed - which has lead to much debate and criticism among creators and groups.
A similar option on Facebook would undoubtedly come with the same potential concern.
In fact, it's pretty easy to imagine that happening - Facebook has already noted that users will commonly report content on the platform as 'false information' simply because they disagree with the premise of a story, or because they’re intentionally trying to target a particular publisher. And when you also consider the ways in which politically motivated groups have been misusing Facebook to sway voter opinions already, it's easy to imagine a downvote option would be utilized for the same.
So would a downvote option make Facebook a better place to interact? It's difficult to say - on one hand, by providing more context as to the relative popularity of a post, it could make people re-think the opinions they share, the content, and that could prompt users to re-think their activity. But the potential for misuse is also significant. And at a time in which Facebook is working to rid such from its platform, it may not be what's best.
But there is some logic there, there is some benefit to providing a simple response option which can be indicative of the broader level of support or disagreement. Even as a ranking factor alone, it would be relevant - if it could be implemented in the right way.
It's an option that's long been debated, both by users and Facebook itself, and it could may come to fruition. Or maybe not. Only time will tell.
Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter