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Is it the end of honest feedback?

A real friend will tell you unpleasant truths. Not to hurt you, but because they know you can do better, and they don’t want you to stagnate into performing inadequately to your abilities. The one company that does not agree with this statement is YouTube. Recently, they announced the removal of public dislike counts. The button will remain, but only the creators will see the count.[1] However, the number of likes and dislikes is not only an important indicator for creators, but also for the viewers. The ratio enables individuals to decide whether a particular video is worth their time by looking at the experience of others. Therefore, viewers are going to be deprived of very useful information, but a company claims that is a significant improvement in their system.[2]

YouTube’s justification for the action is that it ensures respectful interactions between viewers and creators as well as counters harassment. Moreover, they stated that previously conducted experiments proved effective in reducing dislike attacks, when people team up to drive up the number of dislikes on a singular video.[3] Mostly small channels were affected, but YouTube declined to share specific data from the research.[4] While the care for creators’ well-being may be a compelling reason, lack of public dislike counts enables them to lure viewers with clickbait, spam, or misleading titles.

The idea of limiting users access to reactions is not a new advancement as already a few years ago Instagram started testing the possibility to hide like counts. In the long run neither Facebook nor Instagram committed to remove the display of likes as the research found that it does not affect the pressure levels of participants. Both platforms decided to leave it to user’s preferences giving them a possibility to hide it.[5] YouTube’s Creator Liaison, Matt Koval, in his announcement made a claim that transition for viewers will go smoothly as other platforms do not even have a dislike button.[6] However, apps under the Meta company and TikTok are content recommendation engines and YouTube is mainly used as a search engine. In the case of YouTube following the analogy that social media platforms never had dislike buttons, is like making an argument that you should react with clapping hands every time google search is outperforming your expectations. The current trend in internet megacorporation management is to sell a product that “has it all”, which clearly doesn’t apply in this example. Clear boundaries must be established to argue in such a manner and YouTube evidently lost its rhetorical sense along the way, probably blinded by the potential profits generated by this decision. 

The timing can indicate the true reasons behind the move as currently social media are campaigning for creator talent and YouTube already announced a $100 million creator fund aiming at promotion of its short video platform, which is going to directly compete with the growing population of TikTok.[7] Changes are also coinciding with “Silicon Valley’s crisis of conscience’’ meaning public awakening about the addiction and isolation of individuals caused by social media.[8] Lawmakers in Congress and the European Parliament are organising hearings regarding detrimental effects of big tech.[9] YouTube states that the removal of the dislike button does not regard any regulatory changes and repeats its story about care for creators.[10] If this would be genuinely true, then would not they consider more suitable solutions such as assigning moderators to comment sections or possibility to dislike a video after watching at least half of it. To take the responsibility, companies should focus on the well-being of viewers by minimizing view time, not by adding their bottom line. Removal of the dislike button is driven by one question asked too regularly in the tech industry: how can we make a platform more engaging?

[1] ‘An Update to Dislikes On Youtube’ (blog.youtube, 2021) <https://blog.youtube/news-and-events/update-to-youtube/> accessed 25 November 2021.

[2] ‘Youtube’s ‘Like’ And ‘Dislike’ Buttons Now Provide More Accurate Counts’ (DIGITAL MARKETING, 2021) <https://digitalmarketingjournal.weebly.com/blog/youtubes-like-and-dislike-buttons-now-provide-more-accurate-counts> accessed 25 November 2021.

[3] ‘An Update to Dislikes On Youtube’ (blog.youtube, 2021) <https://blog.youtube/news-and-events/update-to-youtube/> accessed 25 November 2021.

[4] ‘Youtube Is Removing the Dislike Count on All Videos Across Its Platform’ (Techcrunch.com, 2021) <https://techcrunch.com/2021/11/10/youtube-is-removing-the-dislike-count-on-all-videos-across-its-platform/> accessed 25 November 2021.

[5] Ananya Bhattacharya, ‘Youtube Is Scrapping the Dislike Count For Viewers—But The Button Is Staying’ (Quartz, 2021) <https://qz.com/2088620/why-is-youtube-scrapping-the-dislike-count-on-videos/> accessed 25 November 2021.

[6] YouTube Creators, ‘Update to Youtube’s Dislike Count’ <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxOuG8jMIgI> accessed 25 November 2021.

[7] ‘Youtube Is Removing the Dislike Count on All Videos Across Its Platform’ (Techcrunch.com, 2021) <https://techcrunch.com/2021/11/10/youtube-is-removing-the-dislike-count-on-all-videos-across-its-platform/> accessed 25 November 2021.

[8] Condé Nast, ‘Silicon Valley’S Crisis of Conscience’ (The New Yorker, 2021) <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/08/26/silicon-valleys-crisis-of-conscience> accessed 25 November 2021.

[9] ‘Facebook Files: MEPs to Invite Whistleblower Frances Haugen to A Hearing | News | European Parliament’ (Europarl.europa.eu, 2021) <https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20211011IPR14619/facebook-files-meps-to-invite-whistleblower-frances-haugen-to-a-hearing> accessed 25 November 2021.

[10] ‘Youtube Is Removing the Dislike Count on All Videos Across Its Platform’ (Techcrunch.com, 2021) <https://techcrunch.com/2021/11/10/youtube-is-removing-the-dislike-count-on-all-videos-across-its-platform/> accessed 25 November 2021.

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