Facebook users, mainly in Australia and New Zealand, posted screenshots of a new feature over the weekend: downvote and upvote buttons.
This is a trial, meaning it won’t necessarily roll out to all users. The change puts up and down arrows, with a vote tally, to the left of the “Like” and “Reply” links in comment threads for certain users. Here’s what that looks like:
Upvote and downvote comments on Facebook, when did this happen? pic.twitter.com/q9F7OcJ4R3
— Carter (@cwsbbb) April 29, 2018
My first reaction: that’s a lot of clutter to stick below every comment in a thread, especially on mobile. And there are now two different metrics for users to keep track of: the vote tally and the reactions total. It’s a lot to take in.
And that’s before we even talk about the motivation for the change. Right now users can like posts on Facebook, and can even express anger or sadness. But there’s no clear way to say “this post is bad.” Facebook reps in the past have said the motivation for the “downvote” button is for users to point out inappropriate posts.
Here’s my friend Matt Hughes, writing for The Next Web:
With its downvote button, Facebook is putting a lot of faith into its users. It wants people to use it to flag what Facebook calls “bad comments,” which it defines as having “bad intentions or is disrespectful.” It’s making great pains to emphasize that this isn’t a dislike button. That said, it’ll almost certainly be used that way.
It’s true. Reddit, and various communities on that site, told users for years not to use the downvote button just because you disagree with something, but that’s how most people use it. Facebook can’t realistically expect anything else to happen on their site with the design above.
And it’s easy to imagine this going wrong. One doesn’t need to spend a lot of time on Reddit to discover how negative downvotes can become—from hiveminds censoring viewpoints they don’t like to hoards of people invading other communities only to downvote everything in sight, Reddit has some obvious design issues that make it a worse place.
But those negatives happen on Reddit because that site is transparent with what its buttons do. Upvotes make posts more prominent, downvotes make them less prominent. There’s no reason to assume Facebook is going to implement a system that simple—in fact, I’d bet against it. The downvote button will likely be one more metric among many the algorithm takes into account. Only time will tell if that makes the site feel more negative overall, assuming this ever becomes anything more than a trial.