After scrapping its Instagram stories-like Fleets just last week, Twitter has announced another new feature – but it's still not an edit button. This time, the platform is taking its inspiration from Reddit with the rollout of upvote and downvote buttons for some iOS users.
The feature seems to be more for internal use than for users, with Twitter saying (opens in new tab) that downvotes aren't public. There are a few different ways you'll see this feature presented, with Reddit-style thumb icons, as well as up-and-down arrows. In some cases, the Twitter heart will still be visible. But the response to the announcement is the same as it always is with these new features – where's the edit button?
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Some of you on iOS may see different options to up or down vote on replies. We're testing this to understand the types of replies you find relevant in a convo, so we can work on ways to show more of them. Your downvotes aren’t public, while your upvotes will be shown as likes. pic.twitter.com/hrBfrKQdcYJuly 21, 2021
Twitter says that the move is to "understand the types of replies you find relevant in a convo, so we can work on ways to show more of them." It further clarified (opens in new tab) that the feature is "just a test for research" and that the downvotes are "not a dislike button" which seems to be a sticking point in the wake of the announcement.
When pressed as to why there's a dislike button with no counter visible, Twitter responded, "This isn't quite a dislike button. In this research experiment, the thumbs down icon is a down vote that lets us know that you think the reply isn’t relevant to the conversation. We want to better understand the types of replies you do and don't find relevant in a convo."
Twitter is beating the same drum of telling users it wants to find out which replies they find "useful", with Twitter researcher Cody Elam (opens in new tab) saying that past research has allowed Twitter to discern "which types of replies are considered best when reading conversations." The parameters for what Twitter deems to be the 'best' replies include those that are informative, supportive, positive, or funny, and Elam says these types of replies often don't "surface quickly enough."
Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour (opens in new tab) added, "we're exploring different product solutions to rebalance the incentives on the platform. in this case: we're interested in whether downvotes can help disincentivize low-quality replies." After admitting that qualifying a 'low quality' reply is subjective, he describes "jerk-like behavior or irrelevant commentary" as something that falls into this category in his opinion.
As many Twitter threads are pointing out, the feature – while well-intentioned in terms of trying to address the more negative aspects of the platform – could easily be abused. Simply put, Twitter isn't going to be a utopia anytime soon because it's infested with people who have the luxury of being anonymous if they so choose, and efforts like this worry users about the possibility of being silenced, and the potential ways these kinds of features can be misappropriated.
It's an admirable endeavour to try to make Twitter less toxic, but there's a point at which reasonable terms and conditions pivot into micro-policing of users' content to force them to engage in a way the platform finds acceptable to improve its own reputation.
If you use social media at all, you know it's not all positive vibes. You'll also know there are basic features that would make the user experience significantly better. Like an edit button which we've all been clamouring for, for what feels like forever. Twitter seems too preoccupied with cleaning up its image than making any pertinent changes that would actually be of use in the fight against trolls, or giving users features they've specifically been requesting for years.
Perhaps it should start with listening to users so it can react to what they feel will actually improve their experience on the platform. Features like this seem purely performative and for Twitter's benefit as it tries to distance itself from its reputation as a bit of a cesspool when it comes to social media platforms. By all means, try to make the user experience better, but please can we start with listening to them? And introducing an edit button?