YouTube: Removing the Dislike

Photo+by+Azamat+E+on+Unsplash%0A

Photo by Azamat E on Unsplash

Leonid Nevezhin

YouTube is one of the world’s most popular social media platforms: with a staggering 122 million active users and over 1 billion hours of content watched daily, it’s played a role in the lives of many. However, most recently, Google, YouTube’s parent company, has removed its dislike button in order to prevent cyberbullying and encourage “respectful interactions between viewers and creators.”

I first discovered this change myself when watching a tutorial video about AP Chemistry on Youtube—which turned out to be mostly promotional, with the solutions to the examples locked behind a paywall on the creator’s site. After wasting precious minutes with the video, I scrolled down to leave a dislike but was confused to see no count, and when I clicked the dislike option, I was simply greeted with a “Feedback shared with creator” message.

The absence of a count meant that while my opinion would be shared with the creator, other viewers of the video would fall into the same rabbit hole that I did. The removal of the count discourages users from openly sharing opinions with like-minded viewers, and it decreases the right to free speech in a user-led social media platform. As the update was rolled out globally, individuals took to social media, the majority of whom were unhappy with the change, reflecting that it was upsetting, disappointing, and ineffective. 

Youtube Creators alike disagree with the change, including the platform’s most-subscribed to creator, PewDiePie, who states, in a video he made regarding the topic, that he has never faced cyberbullying on the platform and has never heard of it or seen it happening to others. Most creators have agreed with these statements in their own videos. 

YouTube’s co-founder, Jawed Karim, has also voiced his strong disapproval of the change by editing the description of the first video to YouTube, uploaded by him over 16 years ago. “…Not all user-generated content is good. It can’t be. In fact, most of it is not good. And that’s OK. The idea was never that all content is good. The idea WAS, however, that among the flood of content, there are great creations waiting to be exposed. And for that to happen, the stuff that’s not great has to fall by the side as quickly as possible.”

On the contrary, it has been argued that other top social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, have never had a dislike button, so YouTube does not need to either. However, these are all very separate cases. 

Firstly, these platforms do not require a dislike button, since they rely on short snippets of information (such as photos and 60-second videos) whereas on YouTube, videos can be hours in length. Therefore, a like-to-dislike ratio is vital in determining if a user wishes to start watching the video. 

Secondly, the cyberbullying that YouTube states occurs as a result of the dislike button, still persists on other social media platforms. In fact, statistically speaking, YouTube is ranked as the second lowest for cyberbullying-prone platforms out of the six most popular social media platforms globally, even though it is the only one to feature a dislike button.

Source: Broadband Research, 2021

Why then, has this change arrived?

The answer lies deeper within YouTube’s updated policy. Simply put, Google has been striving to create a greater uniformity in user experience, by promoting more corporate-curated content. Looking at it from this lens, the update is very appealing, as the videos of many news corporations have long been the target for high dislike ratios.

But now, we’re seeing a transfer of control from the users to the corporations. In fact, according to Karim’s statement, the change puts YouTube in a dangerous place, prone for decline in viewership. Ultimately, this step could lead to YouTube’s stray from its original goal of becoming a creator’s playground to a meticulously-curated, corporate-led experience.