By Joe Badalamenti
Recently YouTube announced that it will be removing dislike visibility from all videos. While technically keeping dislikes on the platform, a new update will remove the dislike counter from all videos, rendering it useless. No one will be able to see the number of dislikes per video, as well as the like to dislike ratio, two critical means of quantifying the quality and popularity of videos. This move represents a continual gutting of the original spirit of Youtube.
Youtube was founded on February 14th, 2005 with the famous slogan, “Broadcast yourself.” The idea that one could make and share videos to the world was an appealing concept by many. This resulted in a growth in users, as well as videos to the website. Eventually, a culture developed, as figures such as Smosh, Ray William Jonson, and even PewDiePie gained massive traction. Formats such as vlogs, “Lets Plays” and “YouTube Poops” developed into common genres. What’s significant about all of this was that this was done by ordinary people looking to express themselves. It was truly an example of the early internet Renaissance. There were few rules other than to comply with US laws. But how would I know if a creator had gone too far with a video? Enter the rating system. Originally a five-star system, the like system allows viewers to give their input through either a like or a dislike. Comments could also be used to express more nuanced feedback. While certainly not a perfect system, the like-based rating system allowed the developing YouTube community to moderate content on the website.
Eventually, the potential of a video-sharing website was noticed by the public as notorious tech start-up Google acquired YouTube in October 2006, for a grand total of $1.65 billion. Now in possession of the website, Google started to gradually change the website as time went on. Unfortunately most of these changes were frowned upon by the original and now growing community of YouTube. First were the numerous layout changes made to YouTube. While this made the website more uniform, this change was criticized as limiting the ability of creators to personalize their Youtube channels. Another criticism was that of the algorithm, a machine learning system designed to feed viewers similar videos in an effort to keep users watching videos. While this addition made it easier to find new videos similar to those you watched, the act of using the search bar, a prominent feature of the website, was disincentivized in favor of using recommended videos. In other words, Google fixed a problem that no one in the community had with the website.
One of the biggest changes was the ability to monetize videos, which allowed creators to earn revenue on their videos through the use of advertisements on videos. This was initially received positively, however, this change had the most profound effect on the website as a whole. While users initially created videos in order to “broadcast themselves,” monetization changed the incentives to one of making money or even a career out of the website. This attracted many more creators, as well as a plurality of corporate brands and media to promote their numerous products. Eventually, this transformed the Youtube community into one where original creators who were once prominent became overshadowed by repetitive corporate content.
Suffice it to say, the community was not on board with these changes, thus efforts to resist these changes developed. The first prominent attempt at resistance was the creation of “Bob.” Bob was a text stick figure whose main goal was to overcome the integration of Google + within the website. While Bob may have had a tank at his disposal, this was not enough to save Youtube from the powers-that-be. Years later, YouTube creator EmpLemon, who also made several videos chronicling these events, devised a plan to “tank,” or mass dislike, the 2018 YouTube Rewind, an annual showcase of all the events that occurred that year. The logic behind this plan was to send a message strong enough that the higher-ups would have to recognise it. What’s interesting about this plan is that the community was able to pull it off. In December of 2018, the year’s Youtube Rewind accumulated 15 million dislikes becoming the most disliked video on the platform. Mission accomplished? Unfortunately, instead of addressing the grievances of the overall community, YouTube decided to continue changing the website. Instead of making changes that please the community, why not remove the ability to dislike videos altogether?
With this trend in mind the question remains: where do we go from here? Given the trends discussed in this article, it’s unlikely that Youtube or Google will make a serious effort to cater to the original YouTube community. Though neglected by the corporate overlords, it is possible that this community can persist as original content is made to preserve the original nature of YouTube. Another option is to migrate to a competitor such as Odyssey or Rumble. While they may be obscure at the moment, these competitors seem eager to cater to those disillusioned with the state of Youtube. It may seem that the odds are stacked against the YouTube community, however, they have often proven themselves able to adapt in order to preserve years of creativity.