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You decide – has YouTube made a mistake by removing dislikes?

YouTube has announced that dislikes will no longer be visible as an attempt to combat ‘targeted harassment’. Is this a move to genuinely help creators or is it pandering to corporate sponsors and brands?

YouTube has begun hiding dislikes from viewers on all videos. The company says it has made the move to prevent targeted harassment, and to ‘promote respectful interactions between viewers and creators’.

This news has already faced backlash from commentators on both YouTube and Twitter. The official announcement video on YouTube currently sits at 15k likes – though trying to gauge how many people have disliked it is now impossible.

While the pushback is intense, there are some legitimate reasons why YouTube may have decided to take this route, both in the name of self-interest and to protect creators. The company says it ‘ultimately has a responsibility to protect its community’ and has made clear that this is the driving reason for this change.

Creators, meanwhile, say that removing dislikes only serves to shield advertisements and brands from legitimate criticism, and erodes the democratic power of viewers. With no way to express themselves publicly, how are viewers supposed to tell what is a high or low quality video?

Let’s take a look at both sides of the coin. Is YouTube making a mistake, or is this simply another step toward a more brand-friendly and mainstream platform?


The argument for removing dislikes

First and foremost, YouTube has based its decision on apparent creator feedback. It says that dislikes were causing distress for certain channels and encouraging intense, mob-like behaviour.

Think of it as a similar phenomenon to Metacritic review bombing, whereby users flood a game or film with intensely negative reviews in order to bring the aggregated score down to an extreme low. The latest example of this is the GTA Definitive Edition trilogy, which has an overall user score of less than 1.

Incidents of this nature on YouTube are not too commonplace, at least as far as mainstream channels go, but both Shane Dawson and James Charles have been victims of this sudden rush of dislikes and subscription removals in the (relatively) recent past.

Elsewhere, you’ll find many videos with a 90% dislike ratio, usually on news channels such as the BBC, Sky, and Channel 4. Almost every one of their videos are swamped with dislikes and vaguely right-wing conspiracy ‘fake news’ comments that disregard any and all content.

In the last few weeks, Travis Scott has been hit with a mountain of dislikes on his recent ‘Escape Plan’ music video, due to the Astroworld incident where ten people died. It’s likely that YouTube wants to prevent a ‘snowball’ effect where thousands or millions of users dislike videos just for the sake of it – or do so because everyone else is.

Then there are the unspoken reasons. A big one is brand sponsorships, advertisements, and endorsements. With users no longer able to view dislikes or gauge the overall public perception to a promotional video, it is easier for companies to save face and retain commercial integrity.

Remember Kendall Jenner and the Pepsi activism fiasco? There’ll be less of that going on if we can’t see the level of dislikes.


Why could this be a bad thing?

Despite the appeal for YouTube in this decision, the push back from creators and viewers has been intense.

Top figures such as PewDiePie and Unbox Therapy have called out the platform and shown active disdain. Just read through the comments of YouTube’s original announcement video and you’ll find that 99% of them are negative.

A big factor in the sudden upset is that the change effectively erodes the democracy of YouTube as a public service.

It lessens the voice of viewers and means that poor, misleading content can be held less accountable.

We no longer know what others are thinking about what we’re watching at a glance and it becomes a longer process to determine whether or not a video is even worth watching. Tutorial videos are now a much larger headache to sift through and find, especially ones with fewer views or less engagement.

Many feel that it also undermines the principles of YouTube. It favours advertisers over individuals, which is the antithesis of YouTube’s original premise. The whole idea was to be a platform for anyone, for you to use, and the respect between creator voices and user feedback has always been a significant selling point.

By chipping away at this dynamic, YouTube risks losing users who use it specifically for trusted information and help. It is now at greater risk of spreading misinformation, and makes it harder for individuals to tell one another if something is legit or not.

We’ll have to see what YouTube does next. It has rolled back features in the past – YouTube Heroes fell flat on its face five years ago – so we may see dislikes pop back up before too long. Still, advertisement money is one hell of a temptation.

 

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