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May 2, 2018

Facebook’s downvote test has made its way to New Zealand and Australia

by John_A

Nataliya Popova / 123RF

After using a two-question survey to crowdsource which news sites are trustworthy, Facebook could soon ask users to help determine which comments pop up first on public page posts. Facebook previously confirmed that the platform had begun testing a downvote button (not a dislike button) for comments on Pages posts for a small percentage of Android users in the U.S. Now, it seems that those initial tests went well, as Facebook is now introducing the downvote button to some of its users in Australia and New Zealand.

“People have told us they would like to see better public discussions on Facebook, and want spaces where people with different opinions can have more constructive dialogue,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNET.

“To that end, we’re running a small test in New Zealand which allows people to upvote or downvote comments on public Page posts. Our hope is that this feature will make it easier for us to create such spaces, by ranking the comments that readers believe deserve to rank highest, rather than the comments that get the strongest emotional reaction.”

While Facebook only confirmed the test feature in New Zealand, it seems that neighbors in Australia are seeing the button as well.

Comments on public posts can often number in the thousands, so Facebook’s algorithms rank the comments by the number of replies and interactions. What the downvote button does is to drive some of the irrelevant or misleading comments farther down the list, which means fewer users will see them. The button allows users to essentially report a comment, and after downvoting, users that are included in the test can say why they downvoted the comment, including buttons for offensive, misleading and off-topic.

Facebook is testing downvoting comments pic.twitter.com/SBOSQITotO

— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) February 8, 2018

Facebook says the commenter won’t see that the comment was downvoted and that the tool is instead a way to assist the algorithms in deciding which comments to show at the top of the discussion. The current system will put comments with the most reactions at the top, but the downvote would allow a comment that’s at the top because everyone responded with the angry emoji to go back farther down in the list, for example.

While the test is running, Facebook says the button won’t affect where the post itself appears in a newsfeed. The company says it doesn’t have plans to expand the test. Facebook is also stressing that downvote and a dislike button are not one and the same.

Upvoting and downvoting is a Reddit concept that allows the readers to moderate the comments themselves, crowdsourcing the ranking of each post in a discussion.

Facebook calls the downvote option a “feature for people to give us feedback about comments on public page posts.” The platform also recently launched a way for users to help determine what new sources are trustworthy with a survey. The move leaves the trustworthiness marker as something crowdsourced, relieving Facebook of the responsibility as the company works to find a happy medium somewhere between the role of fake news in the last presidential election and remaining free of the liability of publishers that choose which news to publish.

Like all tests, the downvote button’s existence for a small percentage of users doesn’t guarantee the option will see a wider rollout, though now that it has made its way to two other countries, we may be on our way to seeing wider adoption after all.

Updated on May 1: The downvote button test is now live in New Zealand and Australia. 

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