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YouTube is experimenting with ways to tackle people weaponizing dislikes

YouTube is no stranger to viewers weaponizing the dislike button, as seen by the company’s recent Rewind video, but the product development team is working on a way to tackle the issue. Tom Leung, director of project management at YouTube, addressed the issue of “dislike mobs” in a recent issue of Creator Insider, YouTube’s corporate series for creators.

“Dislike mobs” are the YouTube equivalent to review bombings on Steam — a group of people who are upset with a certain creator or game decide to execute an organized attack and downvote or negatively review a game or video into oblivion. It’s an issue on YouTube as well, and one that creators have spoken out against many times in the past. Reports have suggested that a video with a high number of dislikes — that outweighs the number of positive likes — is less likely to be recommended, and could therefore hurt the creator’s channel.

Now, the company is planning to experiment with new ways to make it more difficult for organized attacks to be executed. Leung states in the video above that these are just “lightly being discussed” right now, and if none of the options are the correct approach, they may hold off until a better idea comes along. Right now, the current option is for creators to go into their preferences and indicate they don’t want ratings (likes and dislike numbers) to be visible; the issue is that videos with an overwhelmingly positive response also won’t be seen. Leung and his team are aware of how important those public stats are to creators, too.

“Another [option] is requiring more granularity when someone downvotes,” Leung says. “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 to relay the results to the creator in analytics or Creator Studio.”

The last option, which Leung describes as the most extreme option, is just to remove dislikes entirely. It’s not “as democratic,” according to Leung as, “not all dislikes are from dislike mobs.”

It’s a difficult line to straddle, and one that other platforms like Valve’s Steam have also struggled with navigating. In 2018, Valve implemented a histogram underneath review scores to show potential buyers when a product might be undergoing a wave of artificial negativity due to a review bombing campaign. Oftentimes, these campaigns can quickly become divorced from the quality of the product because disliking or leaving a negative review has turned into a kind of meme for certain online communities, whereas other online groups will stage such campaigns because they dislike a creator’s politics.

Steam UI designer Alden Kroll wrote about the reasoning behind implementing a histogram in a blog post, helping to explain why Steam decided to not simply remove user scores or add a temporary lock for a specific game — echoing the same reasoning as Leung’s.

“As a potential purchaser, it’s easy to spot temporary distortions in the reviews, to investigate why that distortion occurred, and decide for yourself whether it’s something you care about,” Kroll wrote. “This approach has the advantage of never preventing anyone from submitting a review, but does require slightly more effort on the part of potential purchasers. It also has the benefit of allowing you to see how a game’s reviews have evolved over time, which is great for games that are operating as services.”

YouTube creators who watched Leung’s video suggested that people who want to dislike a video have to sit through a portion of it before the option becomes available. “Just don’t count likes or dislikes until someone has watched at least 25 percent of a video,” user NPT Music wrote in the comments section. “It will increase watch time if people want to vote and make people make a decision based on the actual video, not just the title or subject matter.“

“It would be cool if the video can’t be liked or disliked without the viewer watching 50 percent of the vid, greyed out until 50 percent has been achieved,” creator Vaping Biker wrote. YouTube isn’t making any changes right now, but Leung said updates would be shared with the community once the product team decides what to do.

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