Blame Me For YouTube’s ‘Dislike’ Option. But Now I’m Glad They’re Removing It.

In 2010, It Almost Disappeared But Then I Put My, Err, Thumb On The Scale

“This isn’t Disneyland,” I insisted while challenging our team’s recommendation that we remove the Thumbs Down (Dislike) button off the YouTube Watch Page during its 2010 redesign. “We’re. Not. Hulu.”

The Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down feedback options had already replaced YouTube’s Original Five Star rating system. After not surprisingly finding that the majority of Star votes were for One or Five Stars, the team decided to move to a UX which better reflected the binary choice. I honestly don’t recall what prompted the “should we remove Thumbs Down” discussion a year later, although it was likely because (a) it was already causing creator distress to see their videos ‘disliked’ and (b) the rest of the team was smarter than I was 🙂

Actually let me amend that: not just smarter, but more diverse in representation. Although perhaps our overall employee stats still didn’t reflect the breadth of backgrounds our industry strives for in current day, we did know that we wanted our team to look more like our user community than a typical tech company. So I’d like to imagine that the presence of more POVs resulted in one or more people’s lived experiences contributing to the idea, even back then, that platforms had a responsibility to think about trust and safety in a broader manner than just preventing illegal activity.

But I didn’t see it. I wanted the visible feedback loop on content that was objectionable, or untruthful. I thought Thumbs Down would help move the larger media companies to see that they had to play by the YouTube community’s rules — you upload a commercial instead of the actual clip people want to see? Thumbs Down! And I thought that part of being online was being open to “criticism.”

Now in 2021 YouTube just announced they were removing visible displays of Thumbs Down, rolling out progressively across the site. You can still vote Thumbs Down on a video, but those stats will only be visible to the creator and not displayed on the playback page. Simply, in their words, “the dislike count will be private across YouTube, but the dislike button will remain.” Smart.

As one would expect if you’re changing the UX for a product used by 1+ billion people, this was informed by data and intention. YouTube is seeking to “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.” In fact, they ran an earlier experiment of this change and saw a “reduction in dislike attacking behavior.” This is good and part of a general industry trend to prevent creator burnout.

So major kudos to the 2021 team doing what I prevented the 2010 team from shipping. They were right then and you’re definitely correct now.