Downvoting into the void

by Possible Modernist

If you downvote a tweet, but that isn’t shared with anyone, is it still manipulation?

I was surprised to discover that Twitter recently introduced a new feature to a Select (probably random) group of users: downvoting. Rather than just having buttons for replying, retweeting, liking and sharing, there is now a fifth icon: the universal symbol for this sucks”.


Upon trying out my newfound power for the first time, I was greeted with an almost-but-not-quite helpful message:


Although I appreciate Twitter trying to be transparent about the effects of user actions, (far too many platforms make it way too hard to figure out how their systems work, even for simple things like online status indicators), there is a strange ambiguity in this informational message.

It’s certainly useful to know that downvotes are private, and not public, which presumably means that no standard Twitter user can look up what tweets I have downvoted. That is useful information (if it is true). But the suggestion that my vote won’t be shared with the author or anyone else? Knowing that tweet authors won’t see downvotes is similarly useful, but anyone else” seems surprisingly expansive.

I guess the question is, who owns” my downvote, such that they might be in a position to share it? (If ownership is in fact required for sharing?) Clearly I do, to some extent. If I wanted to, I could tell you about all the great and trashy tweets I have downvoted, though you would unfortunately have to take my word for it. I could even comment directly on a tweet, to let the author know that I have expressed my displeasure in this way.

But when Twitter says that my downvotes won’t be shared with anyone, does that include Twitter employees? Or do they already claim ownership of that information, such that sharing is not required for use? Or perhaps they will only be processed algorithmically, with no human inspection of the individual results?

In either case, two things seem to be almost certainly true:

  1. Twitter will use the downvotes in some ways, especially algorithmically, such that downvoting is still a kind of manipulation, even if it’s one whose consequences I cannot predict, and which may never be seen directly.

  2. Even if #1 were not true, there would still be effects from Twitter having introduced this feature. In downvoting a tweet, I manipulate myself. In some small way, I commit myself to a negative judgment of a subpar tweet, even if it’s not a public commitment, nor something that the author of the original tweet will ever know about.