YouTube’s dislike button is the dumbest thing since those cereal bars with a layer of synthetic milk

My title is ridiculous, but my point is sincere.  There is a reason why Facebook doesn’t have a dislike button, nor do video sites like Vimeo which promote a collaborative, respectful environment.  The Dislike button is a flawed, terrible idea as far as rating creative content in public venues is concerned.  Note that I’m not one of those popular YouTube stars with equal numbers of fans and haters, so my insight is limited to what I see every day.  I’m just a guy that has observed the terrible quality of public discourse on social media sites and found that certain things, like the Dislike button, do more to hurt the situation than help it.  Here’s why:

1. It promotes negativity in an already unstable environment
For all the awesome ways the internet brings people together and uplifts the human condition, it also has a tendency to bring out the very worst in people.  If you have thick skin, this probably doesn’t bother you.  Really, its just the way people work – give them a screen of anonymity and they’ll tell you any negative thought that pops into their head.  Much of the time, these things wouldn’t be said in a real social situation.

Things like the dislike button give people an additional outlet to lash out with.  Granted, a “thumbs down” is not as potentially hurtful as a string of curses or ethnic slurs, but why would you purposefully increase the possibility of negative interaction on a site like YouTube, where people post creative things that are sometimes very intimate and close to them.

2. Its incredibly ambiguous
When you dislike a video, what are you disliking?  If you’re watching a video blog of someone explaining that their grandfather was just diagnosed with cancer, you might be tempted to dislike the video…but wait…should you perhaps “like” it to support the person?  But if you press “Dislike” for that video, that doesn’t mean the same thing as if you see a music video of a band you don’t like and press the “Dislike” button. And yet, both are probably considered negative feedback. What are you supposed to be communicating when you publicly dislike something?  If someone posts a video of them playing Flight of the Bumblebee on 10 different instruments with exceptional technique, but they’re wearing a Nazi military uniform in a basement full of swastika posters (I might actually be entertained with something that ridiculous), you can’t dislike some of it and not the other, so maybe you press “Dislike”. All anyone knows is that you apparently don’t like the content.

All in all, its just a contrived, oversimplified way to convey your opinion that doesn’t really have a definite meaning.

3. It undermines the spirit of discussion and constructive criticism
The internet is becoming increasingly about saying what you need to say in the shortest amount of words possible.  Facebook and Twitter both have character limits for new posts, almost every system has an up or down rating, texting has replaced what would otherwise be phone calls or voicemails.  These are all very convenient, and can be handy in many situations.  However, they have become so utterly intrinsic in social media that you can’t really avoid them.   Everything wants your knee-jerk reaction.  Don’t think about it, just type it – GO – LIKE – DISLIKE – YES OR NO – WHAT ARE YOU DOING RIGHT NOW TELL ME PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GO GO GO.  I think that the “like” and “dislike” systems are the pinnacle of this idea.  Just press one button and you’ve made your intellectual contribution.  Sure you can post a comment if you want to, but that takes too much time and grammar is hard.  So you can just dislike something and move along on your merry way, knowing that at some point that content’s creator will see your little red mark against him/her without having any clue what your thoughts might have been.

But…it helps me determine if a video or piece of content is genuine
Sure, it might.  There are some videos on YouTube that have names like “Amazing HUMAN-DOG hybrid caught on tape!!!”  And then the video is a cartoon of Luigi from the Mario Brothers repeating “Ima Leweeeeegee” 147 times.  But that’s not what rating systems are for – that’s what flagging systems are for.  If a video title is lying or the video has offensive content, users can flag the content as “offensive” or whatever other term they choose.  YouTube can then take action against this video.  Alternatively, take a quick glance at the comments and if all you see is “wow what a waste of time” then maybe you could think about avoiding it if it seems suspicious after a few seconds.

Damnit Jim, I’m a composer, not a person with any kind of influence on the decision making process at Google or YouTube
I know this post will go unheard, and that other people have said similar things in the past.  But, that’s what the internet is good for, right?  People blowing hot air at their monitors so one random person might accidentally stumble across their blog 2 years later.

13 thoughts on “YouTube’s dislike button is the dumbest thing since those cereal bars with a layer of synthetic milk

  1. i wish many ppl would write like you, thank you… i laugh and agree with: go go go , like dislike…. sooo true…. thank you for the cool writing, did you write this as a thesis maybe for something serious….. have a good day

  2. I somewhat disagree with you. Hitting the -1/dislike button has the same effect of verbal abuse on a article. I can simply -1/dislike rather than hitting a person verbally strong.
    Remember, Internet is composed of both mature & immature poeple;

    • What you’re saying is only half true. It is much easier for someone to hit the dislike button than to post a verbally abusive comment. The former is 100% anonymous (not even a username associated with the dislike) while the latter generally takes more energy and is often an act of malice.

  3. So, I’m guessing you’re not ok with receiving feedback. In your opinion, if I don’t agree with your opinion, or I don’t “Like” your work, I should just keep my mouth shut?
    To you, saying that I “Dislike” ( not like ) something, is abuse?
    How about the freedom of speech? The right of expressing our opinion? Don’t those count? Are we all supposed to act like sedated monkeys and “Like” everything on the internet? I’m sorry my friend, but I disagree.
    The internet is chock full of disturbing, horrible, disgusting, or simply bad: videos, photos, articles, and the existence of the Dislike button is more than needed.
    Feel free to dislike my opinion. I will not feel abused or bullied in any way.

    • It’s obvious that you didn’t read or comprehend my post, otherwise you wouldn’t be saying any of this. You concoct multiple strawman arguments which have no value in the discussion.

      1. I never said I don’t like feedback, but explained why the Dislike button is a bad way to give feedback.
      2. I never said anyone should “keep their mouth shut”. On the contrary, I believe the exact opposite – that people should be able to express their ideas openly and freely, but that sites like YouTube should promote better ways to express negative feedback than a dislike button.
      3. The 2nd paragraph is just complete drivel and you know it. There’s no substantive argument there.
      4. If you had bothered to read the 2nd to last paragraph of my post, you’d see how the Dislike button is actually not needed to denote disgusting or disturbing videos, but that flagging systems can handle these quite well.
      5. Ironically, your last two sentences actually prove my point. Rather than you simply disliking my post (or me disliking yours) we have engaged in a debate and are having a conversation about the topic.

      • Even though this was posted a while ago, I just came across it now and felt the need to engage in constructive criticism (I would have disliked your post as well if I could have :-) ).

        Let me make some of my own:
        First of all, some of the points you raise about problems with the dislike button apply to the like button as well. For instance, your 2nd point: “it is extremely ambiguous”. If someone posts a message on facebook saying they are sad their grandpa died. Do I like that message? Of course not. I would dislike the message on facebook though, if I had the option. And what you often see is that people literally type ‘DISLIKE’ in response to a facebook post, indicating that that option is missing. Still, it wouldn’t mean I don’t support them, so it’s still vague what the like or dislike button actually means. Like you said about the dislike button: “All in all, its just a contrived, oversimplified way to convey your opinion that doesn’t really have a definite meaning.”

        I agree with your 3rd point where you criticize the way new forms of communication including social media force people to be more concise and direct in their message. I could deal with it in facebook posts, but twitter really goes too far. In those short messages any sort of nuance is lost. As twitter only has these messages and not a (good anyway) way of liking or disliking messages, it often results in people shouting harsh messages back and forth. I’ve rarely seen so much vile and harsh content as I have on twitter. This is really due to the fact that people try to ‘pack a punch’ in a short message and lose any sense of nuance. Death threats are unfortunately very common. Youtube suffers more or less from the same problem (but some nuancing is possible) so really if anything should be banned it’s the option to comment (which of course won’t happen). I completely agree that just a click on the like or dislike button hardly is intelligent feedback at all. But that applies to both the like and dislike button. Youtube (and for that matter, shows like Popstars, and any other singing/dancing/creative contest) is full of slightly deluded people who honestly think (and are told by their parents) that they are talented. Without a dislike button, how are these people to actually know whether they are any good? Number of views doesn’t always mean much. By sheer chance sometimes a video attracts a lot of attention. And what is a good and reliable view-to-like-ratio? If your video is watched by 1 million people and 5,000 people liked it. Does that mean it’s (or you’re) any good? You might think so if there’s no option to dislike. But if you would have gotten 50,000 dislikes, then you need to wonder if a career in dance/music/theatre is right for you. In this sense, the dislike button CAN be very informative (just as a like button can be informative). However, like you said, very often you just don’t know why people like or dislike a video. Regardless, the ratio between likes and dislikes does give you some information though. If your point is that the dislike button undermines the spirit of discussion and constructive criticism, how does the like button contribute to that same discussion? Just as little. So either have both to give people a chance to give their opinion both ways (like or dislike) or don’t post it altogether. Of course some will abuse the dislike button for personal preferences, but then again, you can easily conceive people doing the same with the like button. You would find it hard to find any evidence for your implicit claim that the dislike buttoni is abused a lot and thus fuels conflict.

        An important reason why facebook doesn’t have the dislike button is because they are afraid people would start posting things they don’t like (including pictures of abuse). It’s a way to keep facebook clean of negative things. It’s also implicitly a (typically American) way of creating a veil of unattested optimism whereby any expected opposition (whether it be constructive or destructive) is effectively filtered out by reducing the ease with which people can dissent. In other words: Facebook would rather have everybody be happy and jolly in stead of engaging in serious conversations about topics where differences of opinions might arise and be discussed, as the latter could potentially (and unfortunately sometimes does) result in hostility. In stead of wanting an open forum, facebook just wants to be one big wall of positive expression and consent. That’s of course their choice to take such a position, but saying that a dislike button necessarily makes things spiral out of control is ludicrous. If anything it can actually be the basis of a constructive debate by showing how divided an audience actually is.

        Your 1st point is however a valid point and I do agree with it. Plenty of research has shown that people do tend to lash out sooner, and rougher when anonymous. However, what I’ve noticed in myself and in many others is that having the chance to push a dislike button actually takes away the need to additionally post a message about how much you dislike something. So in stead of generating more negativity, it often works as a catalyst to channel negativity into a mere button press and hence reducing more explicit (verbally abusive) messages. Of course you have those people that do both.

        I of course completely agree that the dislike button should not be used to flag inappropriate. The problem is, however, that often people start flagging things which in fact are things they just dislike. They abuse the flagging option rather than pressing a dislike button. I’ll give you two examples: 1. Just a few days ago a new Dutch king was inaugurated. For the ceremony, a bunch of artists had made a song which was supposed to be the country’s gift to the king. However, many people disliked the song (on twitter people were literally sending the main composer death wishes) and in stead of making that known, they flagged the video which was incorrectly removed (but later put back up). 2. A beautiful song by one of my favourite bands was flagged and subsequently age restricted. This is the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QImH6snSN-g . All the video shows is love between people of the same sex. Nothing is inappropriate at all, yet it was flagged by (most likely) religious watchers who disapprove and dislike this. It does not violate any youtube rules… How can this be age restriced and not many of the sexually explicit horrible depictions of women? They clearly should have just used a dislike button to channel their disapproval. However, they chose to flag messages.
        What these 2 examples show is that there is definitely a need for a dislike button as it allows people to vent their dislike and disapproval. Without the button I bet that a lot more videos would be flagged and (perhaps) inappropriately removed. In stead of removing a dislike button, we should instruct people on how to use it and when to use it (so as not to flag appropriate content).

        In short:
        Your argument about the dislike button, though correct in some places, applies almost entirely to the like button as well. In the end what’s left is a matter of opinion.
        Would you rather live in an world (let’s face it, lots of people spend perhaps a third of their day if not more online) where you can freely express your opinion whichever way (like or dislike) with the chance of some negativity because people differ strongly in opinion? Or would you rather live in a world where positivism is at the forefront and it’s hard to give a dissenting opinion and be heard? (without a dislike button, all that remains is a sense of mild to extreme optimism, only to be tampered by an endless flow of short (sometimes abusive) comments)
        I’d choose complete freedom above structured positivism any day. How about you?

        • You seem to be arguing against yourself – I never said that a “like” was less ambiguous or more constructive than a “dislike”. The fact that some of my criticisms apply to both doesn’t change the fact that they still apply to dislikes. The difference is that likes are a sign of support (a good thing, a positive force, inherently benign), while dislikes are universally seen as a force of negativity (because of YouTube’s implementation – i.e. red color and thumbs down graphic) . As such, a YouTube video of someone explaining that their grandfather has cancer which gets a lot of dislikes will often be seen as a “fake” video (“he/she is just fake crying for attention”). It would not be seen as a supportive gesture to dislike the video, as you suggest. Of course, you were referring to disliking on Facebook, which is a hypothetical scenario that I’m not really interested in. I was criticizing YouTube’s implementation, not an imaginary implementation that doesn’t exist.

          I don’t know if I can respond to several of the points in the middle of the post, because basic logic often contradicts them. Twitter is one of the most vile places of the internet? Surely if you look at the percentage of constructive/benign vs. “vile” interactions there are thousands of sites that are much worse. This is the internet. Of course there will be cowards that hide behind anonymity. A dislike option does not prevent this in any meaningful way, as evidenced by YouTube’s reputation for having some of the worst comments sections on the internet (some examples of this widespread notion: http://www.wired.com/business/2012/06/youtube-commenters/).

          In your paragraph on flagging, you mention an instance where the flagging system is abused. While unfortunate, this doesn’t have any relevance to my original point. Your attempt to make it relevant was to suggest that the absence of the dislike button might cause such abuse. Yet the example you gave is of a YouTube video which has a dislike system in place, but clearly didn’t prevent abuse of the flagging system. A case of self-contradiction.

          In your last paragraph, you suggest that the absence of a dislike button would be responsible for “a world where positivism is at the forefront and it’s hard to give a dissenting opinion and be heard”. Clearly this is a slippery slope, as all of the sites you mention allow free speech in comments/replies (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter).

  4. Thank you Alex, for expressing what I have always thought. I dislike the dislike button intensely. For those that argue it is freedom of speech, that’s a load of bull. There is a comment section and if you don’t like something, you could provide constructive criticism. I can tell that those that comment are rarely those that dislike my videos (mostly of my very talented musical kids). My daughter has a video of a 60 second singing audition that went almost viral and there are a number of dislikes (although far more likes). Her singing is flawless and yet we all have different reasons for liking or disliking a voice. But when I hear something I am not into, I just stop listening. I would never hit dislike on something unless it was incredibly offensive. Or indescribably bad (even then, maybe not). Since many videos with dislikes could hardly be described as indescribably bad…what does the disliker mean? He/she didn’t love it? He/she is jealous because he/she wants to be that good? He/she felt it needed work…so a dislike is really a “not great” button? You’re right it’s too ambiguous. LIke isn’t ambiguous. You liked it…why becomes irrelevant at this point. And I would also point out that comments are NOT anonymous so it’s BS that the dislike button allows for freedom of expression. It allows for cowardly, anonymous insults. And finally, only youtube account holders can like or dislike, so millions of viewers who may have liked the video cannot like it. And since I would argue that most dislikes are motivated by immaturity or jealousy, that other wanna be you tube stars are the people disliking most of the videos. I mean, are mature adults really trolling around anonymously disliking people’s art?

  5. If “dislikes” are allowed, they should be tempered in some way. Some thoughts…

    1. Limits on quantity. Each week you get one dislike, and they don’t accumulate when unused. If 1% of the users are doing 95% of the disliking, this will clean things up a lot.

    2. Remove the anonymity of dislikers. List them. Are they competitors? Are they serial dislikers? Are they using a brand new profile created just to dislike all videos made by someone they have a grudge against?

    3. Require written reasons (also not anonymous).

    4. Look for ways to block people from creating profiles just to harass with dislikes. This could be something like a grace period on new accounts before disliking is allowed, or keeping track of a cookie on the machine to block multiple dislikes from the same computer.

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