Twitter Prepares for Broader Launch of Reply Downvotes to Better Understand User Response

Twitter’s new reply downvotes option could be made available to more users very soon, with reverse engineering expert Jane Manchun Wong recently spotting this introductory screen in the back-end code of the app.

As you can see here, the new intro screen outlines how reply downvotes work – which are not designed to be a dislike option, as such, but more a measure of how valuable each tweet reply is, and what it adds, or doesn’t, to the overall user experience.

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Twitter’s been testing reply downvotes with selected users over the last few months, sparking various questions over how it could be applied, and what it might mean for tweet engagement.

As Twitter explained to SMT back in July:

“We’re hoping to better understand what people believe are relevant replies, and how that matches up to what Twitter suggests as most the relevant replies under a Tweet.”

The critical element here is that up and downvotes won’t be public – and more than that, Twitter says that they won’t impact the ranking of individual replies, at least not in the immediate term.

So what’s the point then?

Well, eventually, they could make tweet replies more engaging. Sometimes, when you check out the responses to a viral tweet, you might see a bunch of scam tweets, or people complaining about their accounts being hacked or penalized, or calls for help for random causes.

Maybe that makes the reply threads less engaging, and if Twitter could better highlight the most responsive tweets in each, that could encourage even more conversation around each topic, and get more users tweeting more often by focusing on the best discussion prompts, and downranking the rest.

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At the same time it could also be confusing. Again, Twitter’s reply downvotes are not a vote of endorsement or disapproval of each individual statement and comment, but that nuance may be difficult to communicate if Twitter does indeed roll the option out on a broader scale.

But maybe that’s actually the point – maybe, as a broad research tool, Twitter will be able to glean more insight into the various elements that people respond to negatively in the app, and indicate, through downvotes, that they want to see less of in their feeds. That could then guide the platform’s future direction on algorithmic and other initiatives – and Twitter’s given itself a level of flexibility in how such response data is used by not tying any definitive action to usage of its downvote option.

It could end up being a valuable research tool in this respect, without being linked to any direct result. Maybe, then, Twitter will learn more about user preferences for future development.

It could well end up being a valuable tool, even if people misuse it, deliberately or not.