YouTube announced today that it will make YouTube's "dislikes" count private on its platform. Given the impact it has on the public's view of a video's reception, the decision is likely to be controversial. YouTube claims that the new change will protect creators from harassment, and decrease the risk of "dislike attacks", which are when groups work together to increase the dislikes of a video.
Although dislike counts will not be visible to the general public, the company does not intend to remove the dislike button. To express their disapproval to creators, users can still click on the thumbs-down button. Creators can track their dislikes and other analytics in YouTube Studio, should they wish.
This change is a result of an experiment YouTube conducted earlier in the year, whose goal was for these types of changes to reduce hate attacks and harassment against creators.
YouTube stated that public dislike counts could affect creators' well being and may encourage targeted campaigns to add dislikes. Although it is true that dislikes can serve as a signal for others when videos are misleading, clickbait or spammy.
YouTube stated that it also received complaints from smaller creators, and other users who were just starting on YouTube, about feeling unfairly attacked by dislike attacks. This was confirmed by the experiment, which showed that smaller creators were more likely to be subject to dislike attacks than bigger creators.
TechCrunch inquired, but YouTube refused to reveal the details of the experiments or the data it collected. YouTube said that it conducted its tests over a period of "multiple months" to analyze the effects on both creators and users.
The company tried several designs to remove the dislike counts. One design that had the word "Dislike", instead of the number, appeared under the thumbs up button. This is the final design that the company settled on. It is less disruptive to the row below a video's engagement buttons.
This would not be the first platform to try out the idea of hiding user sentiment signals from the public. Instagram began testing to hide its Likes globally a few years back for similar reasons. It felt that focusing on Likes would be detrimental to its community, and could make creators feel less comfortable sharing their thoughts on the platform. However, neither Instagram nor Facebook could make a final decision. Instead, users had the ability to hide Likes. This effectively preserved the status quo.
YouTube's "dislike" count changes are coming at a time of public reckoning about big tech's impact on mental health, especially for minors. Companies are examining how their systems target and influence their users, as well as the possible changes that they can make to meet future regulations. Legislators have been inviting tech executives to hearings in a variety of markets -- YouTube included -- in order to create legislation that will address some of the more controversial aspects of tech. However, mental health is just one area of regulatory concern. Privacy, algorithmic boosting misinformation, and ad targeting are also important.
YouTube has tried to make some changes in its case by increasing privacy and protections for users aged 13-17. It also decreased the potential monetization of "unhealthy" content for children. Companies are also being forced to look at other areas on their platforms that could be harmful to large groups of users due to the market shift.
YouTube said that today's removal from the dislike count was not being guided or influenced by regulatory changes but its support for creators.
A spokesperson stated that YouTube had a responsibility to protect creators from harassment and hate attacks.
This is happening at a time when tech giants are becoming increasingly competitive in the search for creator talent. Social platforms today are creating funds to keep their top creators despite increasing competition, especially from TikTok's threat. YouTube announced this year a $100 million creator fund in order to help its short-form video platform. YouTube has introduced many new features and policies over the last year to improve the experience for creators.
YouTube will begin rolling out the changes to the dislike count globally starting today across all devices, as well as the web.