YouTube has announced that it’s making a change to the way dislikes are displayed on videos, with the dislike count to be made private, in order to limit misuse of the option.
The change comes as a result of attacks on users, where the dislike option has been used to harm a video’s performance.
As explained by YouTube’s Creator Liaison Matt Koval:
“Groups of viewers are targeting a video’s dislike button to drive up the count, turning it into something like a game with a visible scoreboard, and it’s usually just because they don’t like the creator or what they stand for. That’s a big problem when half of YouTube’s mission is to give everyone a voice.”
As a result, YouTube ran an experiment earlier in the year where it made dislike counts private, in order to examine whether that might have an impact on coordinated dislike attacks. And it did.
“As part of this experiment, viewers could still see and use the dislike button, but because the count was not visible to them, we found that they were less likely to target a video’s dislike button to drive up the count. In short, our experiment data showed a reduction in dislike attacking behavior.”
YouTube says that it also heard from smaller creators and those just starting out that they are often the subject of these brigade attacks, which its examination found to be true.
As such, YouTube has made the decision to hide dislike counts across the board, with a view to limiting the damage and impact, and encouraging more participation from more users.
Which is a big step.
There’s been much debate around the value, or not, of public dislike options, with Facebook, specifically, being regularly asked to add a dislike button on its posts, in order to provide another means of user feedback on content.
Facebook has repeatedly stated that it won’t ever add a dislike option, but it has experimented with downvotes on comments, and other, similar elements, in order to entice direct feedback from users.
Twitter has also experimented with downvotes in varying form, while Reddit has seen great success in community-based moderation as a result of having up and downvotes on user posts.
But as YouTube notes, it can have negative impacts. A more public example is the recent trend of movies being hammered with one-star reviews, often before they’re even released, due to their connection with societal movements or political trends, while brands have also been targeted by user review spam at times in response to controversies.
YouTube itself was actually tangentially related to one of the more significant user feedback attacks of late.
In India last year, before the app was banned in the region, TikTok was downvoted into oblivion on the Google Play Store by fans of popular YouTubers in the region due to a dispute between rising TikTok stars and established YouTube influencers, and more general concerns around TikTok content.
Eventually, Google had to remove millions of spam reviews of the app, in response to the backlash. TikTok was banned in India shortly after due to an unrelated geopolitical dispute, but the incident did have a significant impact on TikTok’s performance in the region at the time.
There’s no doubt that reviews can be weaponized to harm creators, platforms or brands, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the removal of dislike counts has an impact in this respect, and whether YouTube’s initial findings bear true over the longer term, and dissuade downvote brigades from targeting creators.
It’ll be interesting, also, to see whether other platforms take notes, and consider similar in their own approaches to potential downvote options. None of the major platforms seem to be seriously considering adding downvotes as a broad-scale response option as yet, but maybe, if YouTube’s change bears fruit, it could be another way forward for soliciting direct feedback, without the negative implications of disapproval, based on a public count.
I mean, there’s definitely an argument to be made that giving Facebook and Twitter users more direct input into post quality could be of benefit, though both platforms have repeatedly cited the negative, discouraging impact of such as a reason why they won’t do it.
Maybe, this could be another way forward - and while they’ve no doubt considered the same, now they’ll have a real-time example of this process in action, on a large scale, which could change the way each platform considers a potential downvote process.
YouTube notes that creators will still be able to find their exact dislike counts in YouTube Studio, so the feedback element will still be accessible. But users won’t have a dislike count to go on – which could impact usage to some degree, by limiting your insight into a video’s performance. But YouTube has clearly weighed the impacts, and decided to go with the removal of the count.
It’s a logical, yet significant move for the platform, which could have broader implications for public feedback. We’ll have to wait and see what actually happens when it’s launched on a broad scale.
Written by Andrew Hutchinson