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YouTube gives dislikes the thumbs-down, hides public counts

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Creators will still be able to see how many people disliked their videos

Image: YouTube

YouTube has announced that it’ll be hiding public dislike counts on videos across its site, starting today. The company says the change is to keep smaller creators from being targeted by dislike attacks or harassment, and to promote “respectful interactions between viewers and creators.” The dislike button will still be there, but it’ll be for private feedback, rather than public shaming.

This move isn’t out of the blue. In March, YouTube announced that it was experimenting with hiding the public dislike numbers, and individual creators have long had the ability to hide ratings on their videos. But the fact that the dislike counts will be disappearing for everyone (gradually, according to YouTube) is a big deal — viewers are used to being able to see the like-to-dislike ratio as soon as they click on a video and may use that number to decide whether to continue watching. Now, that will no longer be an option, but it could close off a vector for harassment.

YouTube says that when it tested hiding dislike numbers, people were less likely to use the button to attack the creator — commenting “I just came here to dislike” was seemingly less satisfying when you don’t actually get to see the number go up. That behavior may still continue to some extent, though, as creators will be able to see the dislike numbers for their own video in YouTube Studio. The company says this still lets well-meaning viewers leave private feedback to content creators or use dislikes to tune the algorithm’s video recommendations.

Other social networks have given users the option to hide rating metrics, too — Instagram and Facebook famously let you hide like counts if you want to avoid the potential social pressure that comes with having your main measure of success on the platform shown to everyone. It’s not exactly a perfect comparison — the number of likes your YouTube video gets will still be public (if you leave public ratings on), and Instagram hasn’t turned off likes site-wide yet, but it shows a growing concern with what data creators have access to versus what data their audiences have access to.

Dislike counts going private could help hide an embarrassing piece of YouTube history: the most disliked video on the entire site is the company’s own Rewind from 2018. That particular recap video sparked so much ire that YouTube recently announced that the annual Rewind videos were canceled. There’s also an argument that not being able to see public dislikes could lead to users watching a video that’s not very good — an insincere apology, perhaps, or informative-looking content that ends up being an ad.

Still, YouTube’s argument that it wants to protect smaller creators from dislike mobs or harassment is one that’s hard to argue against. It’s easy to imagine workarounds for some of the other ideas it floated to combat that behavior, which included requiring extra info on why you were disliking the video or graying out the dislike button until you’d watched a certain amount of the video. Instead, people leaving dislikes will be doing so for the creator’s eyes only — and screaming into the void just isn’t the same as publicly booing.