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Facebook’s 'Downvote' is the closest we’ll ever get to a Dislike button

Facebook is (FB) testing a “Downvote” feature that could be the closest users will ever get to a “Dislike” button.

The social network acknowledged last week it is testing a “Downvote” button that appears on a small number of public pages that will be viewed by roughly 5% of English-language users with Android smartphones. The new experimental button shows up as a third choice on comments alongside the “Like” and “Reply” buttons. Once a Facebook user taps the Downvote button, they can choose one of three options: Offensive, Misleading, or Off Topic. The downvoted comment is then hidden from view, and the user’s feedback is provided to Facebook.

To be clear, the “Downvote” button is not a “Dislike” button, a Facebook spokesperson explained to Yahoo Finance. “We are exploring a feature for people to give us feedback about comments on public page posts,” the Facebook spokesperson added. “This is running for a small set of people in the U.S. only.”

Facebook executives in the past have expressed reluctance with rolling out anything resembling a Dislike button. Indeed, during a public Q&A session back in 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he didn’t think there needs to be such a “voting mechanism.”

“Some people have asked for a dislike button because they want to be able to say, ‘That thing isn’t good,’” he explained during the 2014 event. “That’s not something that we think is good. We’re not going to build that, and I don’t think there needs to be a voting mechanism on Facebook about whether posts are good or bad. I don’t think that’s socially very valuable or good for the community to help people share the important moments in their lives.”

Facebook is experimenting with a “Downvote” button that hides comments on public pages.
Facebook is experimenting with a “Downvote” button that hides comments on public pages.

So if the Downvote button goes from limited experiment to universal Facebook feature, what would be the difference between a Downvote button and a hypothetical Dislike button? Well, when someone Downvotes a comment, the comments aren’t shown as downranked, or lowered in comment ranking, just as comments are on Reddit. But the fact that the comment is hidden from view raises concerns that the Downvote feature somehow encourages censorship — a tricky situation, given Facebook has distanced itself in recent months from the idea that it is a media platform and should wield editorial control over content and ads.

Indeed, part of that strategy seems to include Facebook encouraging more “meaningful interactions” — a phrase Zuckerberg mentioned several times during the social network’s fourth quarter 2017 earnings — that have also raised eyebrows. Those efforts include fine-tuning the News Feed to show less national news, videos and business posts and displaying more local news from a user’s town or city, as well as banning all ads promoting cryptocurrencies or ICOs in an effort to prevent people from advertising what Facebook calls “financial products and services frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices.”

Given Facebook’s position now around protecting users and encouraging positive interactions, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see a “Dislike” button, which in and of itself, is perhaps a reality some users wish they could Dislike if only they could.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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