Skip to main content

YouTube’s ‘dislike’ and ‘not interested’ buttons barely work, study finds

YouTube’s ‘dislike’ and ‘not interested’ buttons barely work, study finds

/

A Mozilla report found feedback buttons didn’t stop the majority of similar recommendations

Share this story

YouTube’s logo with geometric design in the background
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Even when users tell YouTube they aren’t interested in certain types of videos, similar recommendations keep coming, a new study by Mozilla found.

Using video recommendations data from more than 20,000 YouTube users, Mozilla researchers found that buttons like “not interested,” “dislike,” “stop recommending channel,” and “remove from watch history” are largely ineffective at preventing similar content from being recommended. Even at their best, these buttons still allow through more than half the recommendations similar to what a user said they weren’t interested in, the report found. At their worst, the buttons barely made a dent in blocking similar videos.

To collect data from real videos and users, Mozilla researchers enlisted volunteers who used the foundation’s RegretsReporter, a browser extension that overlays a general “stop recommending” button to YouTube videos viewed by participants. On the back end, users were randomly assigned a group, so different signals were sent to YouTube each time they clicked the button placed by Mozilla — dislike, not interested, don’t recommend channel, remove from history, and a control group for whom no feedback was sent to the platform.

Using data collected from over 500 million recommended videos, research assistants created over 44,000 pairs of videos — one “rejected” video, plus a video subsequently recommended by YouTube. Researchers then assessed pairs themselves or used machine learning to decide whether the recommendation was too similar to the video a user rejected.

Compared to the baseline control group, sending the “dislike” and “not interested” signals were only “marginally effective” at preventing bad recommendations, preventing 12 percent of 11 percent of bad recommendations, respectively. “Don’t recommend channel” and “remove from history” buttons were slightly more effective — they prevented 43 percent and 29 percent of bad recommendations — but researchers say the tools offered by the platform are still inadequate for steering away unwanted content.

“YouTube should respect the feedback users share about their experience, treating them as meaningful signals about how people want to spend their time on the platform,” researchers write.

YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez says these behaviors are intentional because the platform doesn’t try to block all content related to a topic. But Hernandez criticized the report, saying it doesn’t consider how YouTube’s controls are designed.

“Importantly, our controls do not filter out entire topics or viewpoints, as this could have negative effects for viewers, like creating echo chambers,” Hernandez told The Verge. “We welcome academic research on our platform, which is why we recently expanded Data API access through our YouTube Researcher Program. Mozilla’s report doesn’t take into account how our systems actually work, and therefore it’s difficult for us to glean many insights.” 

Hernandez says Mozilla’s definition of “similar” fails to consider how YouTube’s recommendation system works. The “not interested” option removes a specific video, and the “don’t recommend channel” button prevents the channel from being recommended in the future, Hernandez says. The company says it doesn’t seek to stop recommendations of all content related to a topic, opinion, or speaker.

Besides YouTube, other platforms like TikTok and Instagram have introduced more and more feedback tools for users to train the algorithm, supposedly, to show them relevant content. But users often complain that even when flagging that they don’t want to see something, similar recommendations persist. It’s not always clear what different controls actually do, Mozilla researcher Becca Ricks says, and platforms aren’t transparent about how feedback is taken into account.

“I think that in the case of YouTube, the platform is balancing user engagement with user satisfaction, which is ultimately a tradeoff between recommending content that leads people to spend more time on the site and content the algorithm thinks people will like,” Ricks told The Verge via email. “The platform has the power to tweak which of these signals get the most weight in its algorithm, but our study suggests that user feedback may not always be the most important one.”

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 55 minutes ago Dimorphos didn’t even see it coming

R
Twitter
Richard Lawler55 minutes ago
A direct strike at 14,000 mph.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) scored a hit on the asteroid Dimorphos, but as Mary Beth Griggs explains, the real science work is just beginning.

Now planetary scientists will wait to see how the impact changed the asteroid’s orbit, and to download pictures from DART’s LICIACube satellite which had a front-row seat to the crash.


M
The Verge
Mary Beth GriggsTwo hours ago
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.


Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther WangSep 26
E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?


R
Youtube
Richard LawlerSep 26
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 26
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.


A
External Link
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.


J
James VincentSep 26
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.


Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
J
The Verge
James VincentSep 26
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.


E
External Link
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.


R
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 26
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.