The End of the Dislike Button

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S1: I’ve always thought seeing the number of dislikes on a video helps us know as viewers if it’s a good video or not, if it’s a helpful tutorial or not.

S2: Hi, Rachel Hampton,

S3: and I’m Madison Malone Kircher, you’re listening to, I see, why am I

S2: in case you missed it?

S3: Slate’s podcast about internet culture.

S2: All right, Madison, I feel like I have to apologize to you for making you cry before, like five p.m. today,

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S3: I simply was not in an emotionally stable enough state to watch this video of Adele being surprised with her childhood English teacher.

S2: I mean, are any of us emotionally stable? It’s getting dark at four p.m. now.

S3: Absolutely not. Also, like you already just inherently know that somewhere in my past is an English teacher who I think of as like the formative person in my childhood. I just I just I, Mr. Hook. Thanks.

S2: I saw a tweet that was predicated on this video that said behind every bad bit with anxiety is a high school English teacher that changed her life. And so this video that I sent Madison then made her cry is of Adele and I TV event. And the crowd, I believe, is entirely celebrities, mostly celebrities. This is important because it’s not entirely celebrities, but so Emma Thompson is asking her question. That’s like, Do you have anyone in your past who’s just like an extremely formative character for you? And Adele says, Yeah, my this English teacher I had, she was just super cool. I really loved her. She inspired my love of literature. She’s like, the reason I’m a writer, like, I’m writing lyrics and writing books, but I am writing and Emma Thompson is like, Oh, that’s funny, because he or she is in the crowd. And like Adele hasn’t seen her since she

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S3: was like 12. And it’s just so sweet. And Adele just starts crying.

S2: And you can tell us is really genuine moment because she’s like, my I mean, my face touched up like she’s she still calls her miss, which I think is just so sweet,

S4: like, thank you. Remembering. You believe it,

S3: what

S2: they want to be filmed? Oh, now look at me, old face, free time. Oh my god, how are you? I was 12. Do you have kids? What do you say to Tim

S3: Scott in Haven? It’s very sweet. I want to believe that this interaction is genuine and is real. Rachel, would you say you like that?

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S2: VIDEO I I would. I would say, I like it.

S3: That’s the transition, folks, because the time has come to talk about likes here on ice. Why am I? Earlier this month, YouTube announced it would begin hiding all dislike counts on every video on the platform.

S2: That’s kind of terrorism for me, who depends on seeing those little dumbed down reactions on a video to know what exactly is happening in this video.

S3: Creators will still have access to dislike data, but for regular YouTube viewers like me and Rachel, it means it’s about to be a lot harder to tell if a YouTube video is shit or not before you watch it and watch the ad that probably comes along with it.

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S2: YouTube is not the first platform to change its policy on likes and dislikes. Facebook’s algorithm was apparently designed to prioritize those little angry face emojis overreacts. There’s clearly no downside to that policy.

S3: We simply love misinformation, and Instagram and Facebook also now let you hide your like count on posts and changes like these are often presented as moves that will make platforms better or friendlier or safer for users and credit where credit’s due, in part, that is true. But we’re here to remind you that we cannot forget who those changes ultimately always serve, and it’s the tech giants themselves which stand to lose money and power if their platforms become such miserable places that the rest of us start leaving for greener pastures like Tik Tok until we realized that wasn’t so green either.

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S2: The grass is greener on the other side until you get to the other side.

S3: After the break, we’re going to talk a little bit more about what this new change means for YouTube and with some cautious optimism, get into how this might just help curb harassment.

S2: Or, you know, just make YouTube even worse, right?

S3: Like I said, cautious.

S2: And we are back.

S3: Rachel, it’s time for a history lesson.

S2: Oh, my favorite subject.

S3: Is it really your favorite subject?

S2: You’ve heard me talk about the boat like Anne Boleyn, so often you should know this by now.

S3: That’s true. That’s true. I will. I will be getting your your childhood history teacher on the show at some point.

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S2: What history are you teaching me?

S3: Do you know what the most disliked video in YouTube history is?

S2: Oh, that’s a tough one. I feel like PewDiePie is probably somewhere in there. And then something that’s just like harassment based dislike, like someone making completely innocuous video and everyone decided to hate it for no reason.

S3: So the most disliked video in YouTube history was actually a video made by YouTube itself back in twenty. Yeah, which was. So do you know how they used to come out with those rewind videos? Sort of YouTube’s like year in review.

S2: You don’t even have to ask. Of course, I remember they get all this fucking big of YouTubers on the platform. I built the last one I was had Tyler Oakley in it, which I think reveals my age. Um, but yeah.

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S3: The one from Twenty Eighteen was a year in review starring all the year’s biggest creators, and I rewatched it today thinking it couldn’t have been that bad, right? It got really panned for being extremely corporate and like, generally very cringy. Oh, it’s it’s worse than I remember it.

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S2: Oh, like worse. In what way?

S3: There was clearly so much money and time and energy that went into making this video that it is embarrassing how lame it is.

S2: Oh, so like, would you say lamer than the Invisible Children rap video

S3: honestly, on the same level?

S2: Oh my God. But like, ten years later, that’s even more embarrassing

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S3: and frankly, a little insulting, given that this is a cast full of YouTube’s best and brightest stars. These are people who know how to be compelling on YouTube who are reading these really embarrassing lines. So, guys, apparently we control rewind this year. Yeah, we can do whatever we want. What do we do?

S4: There’s one thing

S3: this video needs cable

S2: I didn’t like, but

S3: neither did anyone who watched it in the year 2018, the dislikes were plentiful, about 10 million in the first week, currently sitting at 19 million God, which is as good a way as any to say that the dislike is the most effective way as a YouTube watcher to say, Hey, this sucks ass.

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S2: Well, how did YouTube respond to this to this mass pouring out of people saying, Hey, this sucks that

S3: it was so bad that the next year YouTube actually apologized? Spoiler alert YouTube no longer makes these videos at all.

S2: We all love democracy, the power of the people,

S3: and that’s what the dislike button is, right? Even more than leaving a comment because not everyone’s going to read the comments, but it’s very easy to scan that like dislike ratio count and see what’s what.

S2: And you know, this power of the people in some ways, like in YouTube, rewind it, it makes sense. But in other ways, it it seems like the worst, like the aid of the internet.

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S3: The ad we all saw coming right. This change isn’t a huge surprise. YouTube has been testing this change for some time, and creators actually already have had the option to hide, dislike like data at their discretion.

S2: So this is just universalize ing. This feature that some of the creators had access to.

S3: Exactly, and it’s slowly rolling out for everybody. So if you’re listening to this and you go to YouTube and you can still see just likes, please don’t DMs like you’re wrong, it’s coming for you. Be patient. One of YouTube’s co-founders has some thoughts on this change,

S2: which co-founder

S3: David Karim

S2: and what exactly did he have to say?

S3: He says, Why would you to make this universally dislike change? There’s a reason, but not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed. The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user generated content platform. Why? Because not all user generated content is good.

S2: A groundbreaking insight.

S3: Somebody had to say it.

S2: So did he say this in response to the 2021 change?

S3: He did. And this part’s actually a little weird. I feel obligated to tell you that he did not say this in like a press release or on a podcast or on a news hit. He went a little more strange, a little more strange. The very first video ever uploaded to YouTube back in April 2005 is a video called Me at the Zoo, and it’s of David. He updated the description of this video with his feelings about the dislikes change.

S2: What are his feelings?

S3: I mean, I feel like he’d want me to know that that particular video has 10 million likes and only a quarter million dislikes for whatever that’s worth.

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S2: Nice ratio. You got there.

S3: It is a good ratio. Here’s where things actually get a little bit hairy, he says. Watching Matt Cavill’s announcement about the removal of dislikes, I thought something was off. The spoken words did not match the eyes. The video reminded me of an interview Admiral Jeremiah Denton gave in 1966. I have never seen a less enthusiastic, more reluctant announcement of something that is supposed to be great.

S2: Who? Who is Jeremy? Why are we talking about in 1966?

S3: These are great questions. So I had to Google who this guy was also. But tldr Tilda, I’m pretty sure that Karim is comparing this YouTube rep announcing the changes in dislikes to an American prisoner of war in Vietnam, who got famous in the sixties for blinking out the word torture in Morse code while reading some bullshit lines about how well he was being treated as a prisoner of war.

S2: Oh, what would indeed like? So he just I just I just feel like, I mean, he said, I just want to make sure I’m getting this straight because it’s that he is comparing an exact and one of the most powerful companies in the world. One of the most powerful men in the world to a prisoner of war who was being tortured.

S3: That is correct. He’s basically trying to, you know, FreeBritney, the YouTube creator liaison who stars in this video. That’s the energy I’m getting.

S2: Oh, OK. Well, you know the thing

S3: I don’t totally disagree with, I mean, I agree with the person. I disagree with the prisoner of war. Shit, obviously, OK.

S2: But just I feel like we have to go

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S3: on the record. I am not likening an American P.O.W. to the YouTube creator liaison. No. But as somebody who, for example, watches a lot of DIY content, dislikes are actually a really good, honest metric for whether or not a video about, let’s say, how to change your ceiling fixtures is actually good and helpful, or not just going to end with you, electrocuting yourself hypothetically.

S2: You really are the Himba we want to see in the world lesbian Jimbo’s.

S3: We exist, we should probably hear from Matt Koval, who is the the guy in YouTube’s announcement VIDEO His official title is he’s the YouTube creator liaison.

S1: Unfortunately, research teams at YouTube have found there’s this whole other use for disliking a video that I had never experienced as a creator, and you may not have either. Apparently, groups of viewers are targeting a video’s dislike button to drive up the count, turning it into something like a game with a visible scoreboard. And it’s usually just because they don’t like the creator or what they stand for. That’s a big problem. One half of YouTube’s mission is to give everyone a voice.

S2: I’m sorry this is really funny to me. The creator liaison at YouTube has apparently just discovered irrigating like sir.

S3: What year is it? So the argument YouTube is making here is that the platform getting rid of dislikes will stop people from what Rachel just called irrigating videos, which is a targeted type of harassment on YouTube, which I apologize if you’ve spent any time on any internet platform because you absolutely already know what this word means. But that’s a targeted type of harassment on YouTube, where let’s say a rival fandom of a streamer could dislike a video into algorithmic submission for just no reason at all. It’s a way for groups on the internet to exercise power that tech platforms apparently didn’t realize they had handed to those groups in the first place.

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S2: It also tends to happen to more marginalized creators, and people will brigade their videos just because they’re visibly trans or black and saying things like trans women are women or black people deserve rights. You know, controversial shit, wild stuff.

S3: Wild a note. YouTube has said dislikes will still impact the algorithm so people can still dislike a video. The dislike count just won’t be public anymore, and the the idea behind the change for YouTube is that if that gamification is removed, that visible score count that goes up and up and up, the more people dislike a video, people might actually stop doing that because it’s less satisfying to not see those numbers rise.

S2: This kind of makes sense to me like it sounds on paper like it just might work, which makes me think that it won’t. To me,

S3: it does sound incredibly juvenile. But the thing about platforms like YouTube or Instagram that I try to remind myself of is these metric systems are really juvenile. They’re very, very basic and are dumb, silly little brains. We’re hardwired to crave this kind of feedback on like a very basic level.

S2: I mean, we’re just those little minds pressing the buttons for treats, you know, that’s what the little like buttons give us.

S3: I think a lot about an interview Sean Parker did one time. Sean Parker is one of Facebook’s co-founders. He’s a if you watch the social network, he’s Justin Timberlake, the Napster guy. He’s also dropped the the it’s cleaner guy. But Sean Parker said in an interview a couple of years ago that haunts my dreams, that they fully knew that they were exploiting human psychology when they built Facebook. Maybe they didn’t know the scale to which Facebook would grow, but they knew what they were doing. They were building this platform that would make you want more and more a little dopamine hits every time your dumb brain got a leg from somebody on the platform.

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S2: If only only they thought about how bad they could possibly get as they were wiring our little brains to like those little, little blue thumbs up emojis.

S3: He called it a quote social validation feedback loop and said it’s exactly the kind of thing a hacker like myself would come up with. They hacked our brains, y’all.

S2: I’m kind of shocked that a co-founder would be speaking kind of like, so honestly about what exactly they’ve done.

S3: I mean, interesting that the co-founders we’ve heard from today are ones that are no longer with the companies they co-founded.

S2: Yeah, they’re like that that guy who created the atom bomb. And it was just like, I am become death. He’s they. They realize what they’ve done.

S3: You really went there.

S2: I mean, are we now facing down a democracy crisis because of a fucking ratings platform for women, a dumb sentence that makes sense in this stupid timeline?

S3: Yeah, it is alarming to me that all of those words meant things to me. We’re going to take a break from this particular feedback validation loop, but when we come back, we will say more sentences with lots of words that shouldn’t make sense but do

S2: more of those after the break.

S3: All right, we’re back. Rachel, how do you feel about likes?

S2: I mean, the hamster part of my brain loves them. I crave them. I want all of them.

S3: I’m not going to say you’re mixing your lab creatures, but are you a mouse or a hamster? I really need you to decide.

S2: They’re both rodents, and that’s all that matters here. You know, like, I don’t care, but I do care about how many people are liking my Instagram photo. I make sure that everything is under case, because under case does better. And, you know, we got to make sure the aesthetic matches. I recently cleaned out my entire Instagram feed because I was like, You know what? These pictures didn’t do well enough for my future as a social media content creator.

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S3: I recently decided that I was going to go likes free on Instagram.

S2: Oh, I didn’t realize this is a setting you set up for yourself. I thought Instagram just did this for you.

S3: No. So now any time you post a photo you can select to not show the likes count on that particular photo. So I decided I’ve had enough. I don’t like how bad it makes me feel when people do not like my photos. That sounds pathetic when I say it out loud, but once again, this is not my fault. My brain is wired like this. And guess what? So it’s yours.

S2: It’s not, but that I literally just talked about how I do everything and under case, because I think it performs better

S3: based on absolutely no data,

S2: literally no data, except a little again, the hamster right mouse in my head, running on a fucking wheel, thinking under case, under gaze, under gaze. But anyway, do you feel better using Instagram now? Has it worked?

S3: I do feel less pressure and that I have enjoyed, but I will say the process of making the switch is a pain, so you can only do it on a post by post basis. So there’s no setting in Instagram, right? So I went to settings and was like, Oh, there’s got to be something I can toggle that will hide likes on everything I’ve posted since whenever I got Instagram. Sophomore year of college or whatever, that toggle doesn’t exist.

S2: Of course, it doesn’t now be too easy. So can you go back and change that toggle on old photos, or is the only stuff you’re uploading now?

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S3: You can retroactively change it, but you have to do it one at a time. Tap by tap. So I’ve done the last two, maybe three years of my life.

S2: Madison, you. I love your Instagram feed because the aesthetic is very consistent. But like you post the lot, that’s a lot of content. No offense. Again, your Instagram aesthetic is admirable. Follow her on Instagram. But how long did that take you?

S3: I did it while like rewatching a television show, which on Gilmore Girls, I knew you were there.

S2: I didn’t get out of thing with

S3: cellulite, dammit. So that was good. But I, you know, I could only go so far down the embarrassing memory lane that is my Instagram feed from the last eight years before I had to take a break. So I will return to that at some point. Or perhaps Instagram will build this future for me. Are you listening?

S2: If you’re listening, please do. But you probably won’t. I will say that I think I’ve done something similar in that. I recently archived every single post on my feed, except like my feed starts in March 2021 now, and I think that gets at the embarrassing level of it where I’m like, I don’t need anyone to be able to see this shit, but I still want to see it.

S3: What I’m getting from this is you only mark time from the month and year when we met, and that makes sense to me.

S2: Literally, the first post on my feed is an announcement of our podcast.

S3: I said this before, but. I do find myself telling myself you’re not dumb for feeling better by hiding your likes on Instagram. It’s the same sort of energy I think I bring to like, you know, the narrative of like dumb teenage girls on Instagram who let it let an app make themselves feel badly about themselves. No, this app makes all of us feel badly about ourselves in some way or another or is designed to, and you really have to try to get outside of your brain to say no.

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S2: Yeah. And that’s why is social engineering your own feed is one of the most important things you can do, because the idea of just logging off in 2021 is just not a solution that works. It’s untenable for a lot of people because these are the apps that connect us now. So you really have to try really hard to make your feed a place that does not actively make you feel bad. And that’s all by design.

S3: You know, actually has made some good points about this.

S2: I don’t know why. My first guest is Chrissy Teigen, and I’m honest. I’m really glad that it wasn’t Chrissy Teigen.

S3: It was Kanye West mother. That’s not any better. A broken clock is right twice a day or something like that. Kanye West tweeted, We should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have. Just like how we can turn off the comments, we should be able to turn off the display of followers. This has an intense negative impact on our self-worth.

S2: You know what platform did this? Which one? Tumblr. Oh, for fuck’s sake,

S3: I walked right into that. You just had

S2: your turn off, your follower count being visible.

S3: I know you guys listening to this can’t see what’s happening, but I need you to know that Rachel is currently blinking the word Tumblr in Morse code to me with her eyes.

S2: Madison, I’ve been doing this for months. You’re just now catching on.

S3: No. Was he wrong, though?

S2: Unfortunately, Mr. West made some points. I mean, Mr. West have made multiple points in his life that are true, but unfortunately they are outweighed by the bad ones. But no, he’s correct. I do think that there should be a way to hide. I think a lot of platforms are experimenting with this now, or at least experimenting with being able to curate the level of reaction. I’m thinking about Twitter. Has the function where you can turn off replies.

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S3: Kanye went on to say that displaying your likes for the world is akin to writing the size of your dick on your T-shirt. He did censor the word dick on Twitter, so he then proposed that there should be a live streamed meeting between Jack Dorsey, Kevin Systrom, Mike Krieger, Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, who are all heads of major tech corporations. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook. What does he think is

S2: going to happen? Those people have been questioned by journalists for years now, and they have chosen to continue to destroy democracy and self-esteem the world over.

S3: That tweet was from 2018 a few years ago, so Kevin Systrom, who is no longer Instagram CEO, can probably skip this meeting. And also Instagram did, in fact, roll out some of the changes Kanye was asking for. So thank you, Kanye West.

S2: I refuse to thank that man for anything. I want the all Kanye back.

S3: OK. This is not the old old Kanye, but slightly older Kanye. These were some good tweets from him.

S2: Broken clock twice a day. I will continue to dislike him.

S3: Angry face emoji. Angry face emoji. Angry face emoji. But all right, that’s the show. We’ll be back in your feed on Wednesday, so definitely subscribe. It’s free and the best way to make sure that you never miss an episode. Rachel and I will have absolutely mastered Morse code by then, so come back. Also, consider leaving us a rating and review and Apple Podcasts. Tell your friends about us. Follow us on Twitter. We’re at I.S.. Why am I underscore Pod? We often tweet lots of great TikToks and videos we talk about on the show, so it’s a good way to keep up. Also, we like to think we’re funny, or you can always send us an email where I see Why am I at Slate.com?

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S2: I swear I am, I was produced by Daniel Schroeder, our supervising producer. Thank John. We’re edited by Force Wickman and Allegra Frank, and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate Podcast and a special shout out to Amber Smith, C online or on.

S3: I’m blinking in Morse code. You just can’t see it. I can. I can.

S2: No, I was just like, if Daniel saying, Oh man, I really

S3: we got a man who would make this joke in a bar. I have a different version of it I can make that still has a callback. OK.