The tweet made me angry.
I realized that most of this guy’s recent tweets were pissing me off. It was a shame, really, since I admired his work and was a long-time Twitter follower. But this was just too much. I decided to mute him.
Mute lets you slink away without notice. Sure, it’s a coward’s move, but I didn’t want to alert this blowhard to my distaste with an unfollow or the far more overt block.
That’s when I noticed a different option. Under the drop-down menu available on some tweets (in iOS and Android), nestled between “Copy link to Tweet” and Unfollow [User]” is “I don’t like this tweet.”
Wait a minute, did Twitter just quietly introduce something Facebook has actively fought against for years: A dislike button? I pointed it out on Twitter and most people seemed unaware of it or had not used the option.
Not exactly. The feature arrived late last year with little fanfare. It started on iOS and then came to Android. Twitter would not tell me the exact dates.
There hasn’t been a lot of conversation about it because Twitter hides their negative option quite well and it does not appear consistently. Of a dozen or more tweets I looked at, I saw “I don’t like this tweet” only a few times. (Twitter wouldn't elaborate on how often or under what conditions the option appears.) Plus, the Yin to Twitter’s “like” heart Yang, doesn’t show up in your stream. Still, the language could not be clearer.
“I don’t like this tweet.”
Twitter certainly nailed how I felt about this tweet. It was angry, dumb, and annoying.
Staring at the option, I realized I had no idea what it would do. Since it’s not a choice on the visible side of the tweet, I assumed Twitter isn’t aggregating “dislikes,” though I wish they would.
I selected it for the offending tweet and a little gray bar appeared within my Tweet stream:
“Thanks. Twitter will use this to make your timeline better.”
I also had the option to undo my downvote.
Twitter’s support page offers a bit more detail about what a dislike means for your Twitter timeline:
When you mark a Tweet as I don't like this Tweet, it helps Twitter better understand the types of Tweets that you'd like to see less of in your Home timeline. We may use this information to optimize and tailor your experience in the future. You can access this option from the icon in a Tweet.
I assume a dislike on a tweet is poured into Twitter’s tweet rank algorithm. We already know that our Twitter streams are not last in, first up. Twitter starts by showing you tweets it thinks you’ll be interested in, ones you may have missed while away from Twitter. Below them is the more-or-less chronological stream.
Come to think about it, I almost never dislike the tweets I see in “While you were away.” If I’m not careful, I’m liking and retweeting tweets from hours ago. I’m like slo-mo man on Twitter:
Oh, yeah, here’s a funny retort for something you tweeted 13 hours ago.
It’s embarrassing, really.
At least, though, Twitter appears to know something about what I like. Are these new dislikes a way of further honing Twitter’s “Let’s find tweets Lance will enjoy” skills?
Yes and no. I have a feeling that a dislike on a Tweet like the one I slammed today are more fuzzy logic for Twitter’s algorithm to digest. I bet it picks out the distinct topic words from the tweet and maybe does some sentiment analysis. It must also, I assume, look at who is tweeting, down-voting their tweets so they don’t appear in “While you were away” and, maybe, at all in my Twitter stream.
This is a good thing, right?
No, I’m not sure it is.
Disliking a tweet in the heat of the moment applies a long-time sentiment to your Twitter timeline for a temporary feeling. You can undo it in the moment, but not go back later when you feel differently.
More importantly, we’ve already seen what the "like" up-voting opinion bubble does on Facebook. Last year, people kept liking content that synced with their values and beliefs and ignoring (or maybe choosing “angry”) for anything that didn’t. Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm expertly scrubbed all the non-conforming stuff so Facebook users could live in their perfect social media thought bubbles.
Twitter’s decision, in September 2016 (just two months before the presidential election), to give us a dislike option for tweets could have had the same effect. The platform is already polarized. Alt-Twitter is an echo-chamber of liberal hate. You could conceivably dislike all left- or right-leaning tweets and be in a perfect Twitter bubble.
However, maybe that’s not the intent. As I noted, Twitter hides the option and, considering how inconsistently it shows, may not be wedded to it. In addition, “I don’t like this tweet" might be just an annoyance filter. It could be down-voting stupid tweets from this one guy, but letting through others that are more moderate, or at least uplifting.
If not, maybe I don’t like this Twitter feature.