Starting today, YouTube will hide the public dislike counter on all videos. You can still dislike videos, but you can’t open a product review or tutorial and check the dislikes to see if it’s worth watching. The YouTube brass say this change will “protect our creators from harassment,” which is a disappointing explanation, as viewers are now forced to read comments if they want to quickly gauge a video’s quality.
According to YouTube’s internal research, the dislike counter isn’t actually that useful. YouTube began experimenting with dislikes about a year ago to try and fight dislike attacks—internet pile-ons where users intentionally rack up a video’s dislike count. And when the company tried hiding dislike counts for some users, it found a zero percent increase or decrease in viewership.
It’s an interesting claim that many users find inaccurate and disappointing. In the comments section for an official YouTube video explaining today’s change, users are writing paragraphs about their experience on the platform, and of course, their thoughts on how YouTube is prioritizing creators over viewers. (Most arguments boil down to “creators are too sensitive,” and that dislike attacks are a useful tool to fight clickbait, inaccurate tutorials, and other terrible videos.)
As part of this experiment, viewers could still see and use the dislike button. But because the count was not visible to them, we found that they were less likely to target a video’s dislike button to drive up the count. In short, our experiment data showed a reduction in dislike attacking behavior.
But crappy videos aren’t the main concern here. People post a ton of misinformation on YouTube, including fake (and sometimes dangerous) recipe videos, product reviews that are really just ads, genuinely evil medical advice, and everyone’s favorite form of misinformation—fake news.
Without a dislike counter, these videos may be a lot harder to spot. People will need to venture into the vile confines of YouTube’s comments section to see if a video is inaccurate, misleading, or promoting something dangerous. (And for gullible viewers, the lack of a dislike counter could be the difference between questioning and trusting a dangerous YouTuber, like one who eats raw chicken or mixes ammonia with bleach.)
We hope that YouTube will reverse its decision to hide the dislike counter from viewers. If this decision goes forward, the dislike button will no longer serve a serious purpose—it will only influence your recommended videos and give creators something to complain about when they look at their video analytics.