In these times where the negative effects of social media are at the front of our minds, YouTube’s recent decision to hide the Dislike button seems like a solid, sensible one. The company said it was a move to combat organised dislike attacks, and to promote “respectful interactions between viewers and creators.”
Great, right? Or maybe not. Many creators kicked back. YouTube’s co-founder (and these days more of a vocal critic) Jawed Karim summed up the anger, as the Verge reported:
“Why would YouTube make this universally disliked change? There is a reason, but it’s not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed,” writes Karim. “The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform. Why? Because not all user-generated content is good.”
High-profile YouTubers like Marques Brownlee
made a similar point. Dislikes, on YouTube at least, served a positive purpose for users who could distinguish between a handful of dislikes alongside a lot of likes, and a ‘how-to’ guide with lots of dislikes, indicating it might not just be a very good guide.
YouTube hasn’t rowed back on the move yet, but it’s a reminder that social platforms are complex ecosystems, and there are very few universally positive moves an operator can make. There will often be trade-offs and blowback.
And even just having a Like button can be a problem. Instagram’s internal debate over helping users’ mental health by removing public Like counts only ended in the compromise of giving users the option to switch them off if they wanted to.
But in YouTube’s case, that would just have led to creators of unpopular content hiding their Dislikes and making discovery on the platform more of a lottery.
Next time you curse the product team at your favourite platform for a change they’ve made, just remember they probably had a lot of agonising discussions and weighed the pros and cons of a situation where there may have been no clear right and wrong, only an attempt to balance competing priorities.