Today, screenshots depicting a new “downvote” button on Facebook began circulating on Twitter, leading some to speculate that the social network is actively testing a ranking mechanism similar to Reddit’s community-controlled comment system. The company has officially confirmed the test to The Verge, but a Facebook spokesperson says it’s only intended to be a method for flagging questionable comments on public posts.
Tapping the downvote button hides the comment for the user who taps it, then asks them to say whether the comment was “offensive,” “misleading,” or “off topic.” Downvote view counts not being visible to users. “We are not testing a dislike button,” a Facebook spokesperson writes. “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 US only.”
The last time last Facebook considered a feature resembling a “dislike” button, it resulted in the introduction of reactions on its mobile app and website back in 2016. Those emoji-like animations give users a wider breadth of responses to cover more complex emotions, like a friend’s reaction to a sad or reflective post about a lost loved one. It seems likely that the downvote button, if it does ever launch, will start off restricted to public posts as a way to help users self-moderate sprawling threaded comment sections under news articles, as an example.
Even if it remains a simplified moderation tool, the button may still have a larger role to play in Facebook’s design roadmap down the line. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has pledged this year to reorient the way his company prioritizes posts and organizes information, with an emphasis on “meaningful posts” shared by friends and family and a reduction in posts from brand pages and media organizations.
Giving users the ability to help regulate public behavior on the platform, much like Reddit does, could help Facebook gather data and insight into the types of discussions users are interested in having. It would also help the company understand the tone and content of comments that float to the top, and those that get downvoted into invisibility. All of this could better inform Facebook’s quest to foster “meaningful” interactions, just as the company is using user surveys right now to gauge public perception of news sources.