I think we can all safely say that YouTube doesn’t appreciate audience feedback. Following years of scandals surrounding data privacy, covert censorship and more recently, inaction on the widely panned advertising of gambling scams to minors, the controversial video platform has now opted to impose new methods which further restrict user freedom rather than addressing their legitimate concerns. The decision to curb the “dislike mobs” came after one of the platform’s official videos, “Rewind 2018,” became the most disliked video in the site’s history.
Last weekend, YouTube’s director of project management, Tom Leung, released a video revealing the company’s decision to look into changes regarding their video ranking system — which many users suspect could result in the removal of the dislike button altogether. This speculation was finally addressed by Leung who acknowledged the feature’s removal would be both “extreme” and “undemocratic,” while also admitting that the decision remains under consideration by YouTube’s administrators. Ironically, the video was released purely to generate feedback from users — resulting in another onslaught of dislikes from the community.
“Another [option] is requiring more granularity when someone downvotes,” Leung continued. “If you’re going to give a downvote, maybe you have to click a checkbox as to why you don’t like this video. That could give the creator more information, and it would also give viewers pause instead of just doing it impulsively. On the other hand, that’s complicated to build, complicated to collect, and then [complicated] to relay the results to the creator in analytics or Creator Studio… though it gives users pause before disliking instead of just doing it impulsively… [we acknowledge] it’s not as democratic [since] not all dislikes are from dislike mobs.”
This isn’t to say those mobs don’t exist — they’re just a feature of a democratic platform. Over the last few years, it’s fair to say users have been “weaponizing” the dislike button as a means of expressing popular opinion. There are few better examples than the backlash against Ghostbusters (2016), the all-female reboot turned box office bomb, which became the most disliked movie trailer in history with over 1.1 million dislikes. The most recent example is the “We Believe” video posted by Gillette, the razor company which tried to celebrate the best of men while also condemning “toxic masculinity.” Instead, the video received 1.3 million dislikes and became a hot-button target among the reactionary right looking to build a false narrative of the ad promoting sexism against all men.
The mobs can be ruthless in their judgment — especially when the platform itself becomes public enemy number one. Within just two months of its release, Rewind 2018 was able to garner over 15 million dislikes and became the most panned video in the history of YouTube’s existence. This wasn’t some exercise in needless trolling, but rather an organic condemnation of YouTube’s elitist schtick. The Rewind series, which began as a celebration of the platform’s grassroots community, decidedly turned into a corporate pitch to establish the site’s marketing power, whether through the use of old media celebrity worship (symbolized by Will Smith, John Oliver and Trevor Noah) or through pre-approved hunky-dory creators with squeaky clean records (such as Casey Neistat and Gabbie Hanna). No acknowledgment of the platform’s faults or signs of improvement were made — rightfully pissing off their base of concerned users.
Considering Rewind represents millions in both production and marketing costs, YouTube clearly has a vested interest to ensure such problematic reactions are curbed by whatever means necessary. Leave users to establish their own free market of content, Rewind pales in comparison to the likes of PewDiePie, the site’s most-famous content creator with a notorious record of political incorrectness, where his alternative parody video saw nowhere near the same audience backlash (7.6M likes to 77k dislikes). Even though it included some of YouTube’s darkest moments such as the infamous suicide forest controversy featuring Logan Paul and the trend of fruitless demonetization across the board, audiences rewarded creators for acknowledging these unchecked issues and the need for systemic reforms.
The issue isn’t the surge of audience hate, but rather YouTube’s lack of humbled honesty. Should punishment fall upon the audience, stripped of their voice for collective organization against disagreeable content, or should the platform reconsider why their users are dissatisfied? The value of such viewer organizing can’t be understated. Numerous dislikes can prevent videos from showing up in recommended lists, trending lists and can inform both platform and users of genuinely absurd content worthy of critical consideration.
This can lead to a loss in viewership, yes, but should the goal of the platform be the quantity of views rather than the quality of the content? When the goal is profit, the decision is obvious. Audiences, however, aren’t driven by such greed. There’s a need to create these cultural discussions, highlighting which videos are worthy of the backlash compared to others. YouTube’s removal of the feature would be a grave mistake that will only not further toxify the comments sections we’re notoriously told to avoid — it will confirm YouTube’s disdain for their audiences’ opinions.