What YouTube’s removal of the dislike button could mean for the future of the public sphere…

Earlier this month, YouTube officially removed the dislike counter on every video on their platform. The dislike button will still be active, but the number of dislikes on a video will be private, only to be viewed by the creator through the YouTube analytics tab. YouTube’s publicly stated reasoning for this change was the result of an experiment performed back in March of 2021. “…we experimented with the dislike button to see whether or not changes could help better protect our creators from harassment, and reduce dislike attacks — where people work to drive up the number of dislikes on a creator’s videos” From the experiment they concluded that, “they [creators] 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.” Matt Koval, head creator liaison at YouTube, released a video addressing the change, explaining that the removal of the dislike counter was necessary to combat creator harassment since, “half of YouTube’s mission is to give everyone a voice”. But it’s statements like that, that a majority of the YouTube community feels that the company’s decision was both tone-deaf and inauthentic.

Matt Koval, Head Creator Liaison at YouTube, explains the change in his announcement video

YouTube claims that this meant to help out the smaller creators, but a quick glance at the comment section on Matt Koval’s announcement video reveals that almost every creator, regardless of audience size, is against this change… everyone except for the most powerful. The majority of YouTube videos that have a massive ratio of dislikes to likes tend to be mega corporations and brands, political press conferences and news networks, and somewhat ironically, YouTube’s own official content. In fact, the most disliked video on the platform to date was YouTube Rewind 2018.

It is key to remember that the reactionary functions on a YouTube video (the comment section and like/dislike buttons), are a form of the public sphere; a space that can be metaphysical, where people can come together and exchange options and ideas. Any comment section or online forum is a public sphere, but by removing the dislike button, YouTube is removing a tool of expression that helps the public communicate in this metaphysical sphere. By limiting access within this sphere, we have less of an authentic understanding of public opinion. Matt Koval briefly stated towards the end of his announcement video that many other platforms don’t even have a dislike button, therefor we’ll probably all get used to this change in no time. Right?

Well, take a look a video on Instagram that a majority of viewers didn’t enjoy. It’s very likely that the top pinned comments from users that read something along the line of “use me as the dislike button”, are overwhelmed with upvotes. When in doubt, we want our opinions to be heard, so we’ll always find ways to communicate that within the public sphere. I predict that it won’t be long before pinned comments take the place of the dislike button, and YouTube either has to reassess their decision to remove the dislike counter, or decide to disable comments altogether.

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