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While Facebook has avoided a "dislike" button throughout its existence, YouTube has never shied away from the feature. But while dislikes help YouTube sort content for its recommendations systems and identify things that should be removed, some of the platform's designers are floating the idea of hiding or possibly removing them, due to how much internet drama a coordinated mob can provoke.

This idea comes courtesy of the Creator Insider channel on YouTube (download for iOS or Android), which is an unofficial way for the service's content creators to engage with the people who piece it together and keep things running smoothly. In a recent video, the company's project management director Tom Leung discussed the idea of modifying the dislike button to address "dislike mobs."

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Dislike mobs are coordinated groups of users who give a collective thumbs-down to a video, usually based on issues unrelated to the actual content. If a content creator has become unpopular with a specific group of people, or someone is in the video whom this group doesn't like, they will combine their efforts to dislike a video, usually without watching it.

As you can probably guess, this behavior if left unchecked could lead to a pattern where unpopular people and ideas are systematically shut out of the platform, regardless of the merit of their contributions. YouTube itself can sometimes be in the crosshairs, such as when it bans high-profile promoters of hate speech and fringe conspiracy theories.

Right now, content creators have the option to hide the number of likes and dislikes (while still giving users the opportunity to vote). The feature is disabled by default, but Leung says that one idea is to make vote counts invisible by default instead.

Another notion Leung floats is higher "granularity" for a vote, as in requiring the user to give supplementary information about why they voted in a particular way; this could give the content creator better feedback to help them improve their videos, and making the voter consider the reasons for their decision might help reduce the occurrence of malicious dislike brigades.

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At the same time, Leung acknowledges that granularity would make analytics more complicated, and it could cause frustration among YouTube users. As for removing the vote buttons entirely, he characterizes this as a "very extreme" possibility that's "not super-democratic."

One other idea is to hide just the dislike count. Leung appeared skeptical about the appeal, though news aggregation site Reddit (download for iOS or Android) has evolved to show only its "upvotes," which are the same thing as a like, and the site remains very popular.

Either way, Leung characterizes this discussion as a very early conversation, and YouTube's content creators are being welcomed to provide their own input.

One user in the comments below the video brings up the idea of showing creators a timestamped graph of likes and dislikes, which could help the contributor figure out exactly what sections of a video work or don't work. If such a graph spiked with dislikes within the first few seconds, the creator (and YouTube) could get a better indication of whether a video was bad or just the victim of a coordinated mob.

Takeaways

  • A project manager at YouTube has floated the idea of modifying the service's dislike button, due to it being frequently abused by malicious or hostile groups of users.
  • Right now, content creators can hide vote totals, but the feature is not enabled by default. One idea is to make the count invisible by default instead, while another was to ask the voter to choose from a list of reasons for their dislike.
  • YouTube might remove voting altogether, but the project manager characterized this as "very extreme" and undemocratic.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.