History of YouTube Dislike Button: Why was it Removed?
Last year, YouTube made a decision to remove the dislike button count from under the videos uploaded on the platform. They have been working on the concept since March 2021. The plans were officially rolled out in November 2021. Initially, the news of the removal received a lot of criticism, especially on Reddit.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the history of the YouTube dislike button and why it was removed.
On 30th March 2021, YouTube announced that they were going to alter the dislike button on their platform. After the announcement was made on Twitter, it instantly received a ton of criticism. The reason behind YouTube removing dislike button was the feedback they got on targeted dislike campaigns from creators.
They also emphasized that they are not going to entirely remove the dislike button. Instead, they will experiment with hiding the count so that only the creator can see the number of users who have disliked their video.
After the platform made the announcement on Twitter, Matt Koval, YouTube creator liaison, shared a video where he explained why YouTube made this decision. He added that through this step, they hope to help its content creators. He went on to say that there are groups of users on the platform who target the dislike button to increase its count. For these users, this is like a game that has a visible scoreboard for everyone to see. In most cases, it is because they don’t like the creator and what they stand for. According to Koval, this was in direct violation of YouTube’s mission to give everyone a voice. Ironically, the video received more dislikes than likes. And, even though there might have been some who just wanted to increase the dislike count, for some, it was to explain that they don’t think that this is a good plan.
When did the experiment begin?
In order to decide on whether or not they could change the dislike button, YouTube conducted an experiment in July 2021. The Google-owned platform gave access to the dislike button to the viewers but hid the number. As a result, there was a decrease in “dislike attacking behavior.” They also mentioned that the platform heard from small creators directly, ones who were just getting started on the platform and were targeted unfairly by this behavior. Because of this, they were able to confirm that smaller channels are the ones most affected by the dislike button.
Before this, the creators had the option to turn their likes and dislikes button. However, this also meant that they weren’t able to benefit from engagement.
Why did YouTube decide to conduct this experiment?
According to the platform, the public dislike button on YouTube can affect the well-being of the creator and motivate viewers to participate in targeted campaigns of adding dislikes to videos. Even though this is true, it is important to note that dislikes act as a signal to viewers when videos are misleading, spam, or clickbait.
YouTube also mentioned that smaller creators and creators who had just started on the platform reached out to them about the unfair dislike attacks on their channel. This was proven to be true by the experiment.
Even though YouTube didn’t share specific details regarding the collected data through the experiment, it did say that they ran the tests for several months and conducted an in-depth and thorough analysis of the impact of the dislike button. They wanted to understand how the changes would affect the creators and the viewers.
During the experiment, they worked on creating different designs to remove the dislike button. One of these was where instead of the number of dislikes, the ‘Dislike’ word appeared under the thumbs down button. This is the one that they eventually chose to implement on the platform. The new design is believed to be a less disruptive change to the engagement buttons row under the video.
What could have been the alternative?
In 2019, Tom Leung, then YouTube’s director of project management, talked about how removing dislikes wasn’t democratic as not every dislike is part of a campaign. Instead, he recommended adding granularity to downvotes by adding a checkbox where the viewer could answer why they didn’t like the video. However, this would have been more complicated to build. YouTube abandoned any of such efforts and chose to go with the easy route of hiding the dislike count. Some believe this is just YouTube’s way of taking a shortcut and avoiding tackling bigger issues on their platform, like radicalization, animal abuse, extortion, child predators, and more.
After conducting their long experiment, on 10th November 2021, YouTube finally removed its dislike button. Users were not happy with this change. In their update, they made the change where dislikes were now hidden from the viewers, which drew in a lot of viewers. Some users even threatened to cancel their YouTube subscriptions.
In response to the announcement, there were multiple petitions for change.org through which the users tried to convince the platform to reverse this update and make the count public. Several creators published videos talking about the update and how it would impact the engagement. Some believed that this change would make it difficult for the creators to check the dislikes on their videos and know how they can improve things.
This type of protest has worked before. When Disqus removed downvotes from their platform, creators were not happy. Because of the backlash they received from the community, they brought them back. However, since it’s been about six months since the update was made, it seems highly unlikely that YouTube will revert its decision. It seems that creators and viewers will have to live with the hidden dislikes counts.
The co-founder of YouTube, Jawed Karim, wasn’t happy with this decision either. He called the decision stupid. In fact, he updated the description of ‘Me at the zoo,’ the first video ever posted on YouTube, where he mentioned that when every creator agrees that removing the dislikes count is stupid, it probably is.
There were some users who joked that the platform removed the dislike button out of spite after their 2018 Rewind video became the most disliked video on the platform. However, there were some users with serious concerns regarding the suppression of their freedom of speech. That being said, there are some creators who have been quite welcoming to this change.
Even though the platform received a lot of criticism for this new update, it remained adamant about its decision.
What has been the impact of this change?
At a time of public reckoning of big tech and how it impacts people’s health, YouTube introduced its change to the dislike button. It is not just YouTube that has made a change. Social media platforms are now forced to rethink their systems design to target their user base and make changes as per the new regulations.
Lawmakers are taking tech execs to court and creating legislations aimed at controlling some of the more problematic elements of platforms like YouTube. Some of the most important areas of regulator interest are privacy, ad targeting, mental health, and misinformation.
YouTube has tried to get ahead of these changes through its increased protection and privacy features for viewers between the ages of 13 and 17. At the same time, they have also decreased the monetization potential of content deemed unhealthy for kids. Thanks to the shift in the market, companies are now pushed to consider areas of their systems that might be toxic to people.
It is important to note that the removal of the dislike count by YouTube has not been because of any regulatory changes. This decision has been made to support their creators.
One of the main reasons why YouTube didn’t remove the dislike button from their platform is to make sure that their viewers are able to fine-tune their preferences and receive proper recommendations. So instead of removing the dislike button, YouTube simply removed the count. Content creators can still access the dislike accounts through YouTube Studio. This will help them understand how well their content is performing. The reason behind removing the public display of dislike count was to create a respectful and inclusive environment where everyone has the opportunity to express themselves safely and succeed.
Platforms like YouTube are living in a culture and economy that is led by the creators. It is imperative for them to make sure that every creator has equitable opportunities. But, most importantly, they have to safeguard their creator’s well-being to ensure that more creators join and participate actively across the platform. In the past, the dislike function has been used as a tool for targeting certain creators for the type of content they post, their actions, and their thoughts. At the same time, this is also an opportunity for creators and brands to experiment with their content and work on a robust strategy without worrying about any targeted dislikes campaign.
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