It's fair to say that the incredible growth of the internet and in particular social media has changed its feel a great deal over the years. So of us are old enough to remember when the web was a rather quirky and surprisingly friendly place, but its all-encompassing presence in modern life now leaves websites and social media networks grappling with a variety of factors. How do you support 'free speech' but protect people from harassment and bigotry? How do you encourage honest feedback but shutdown the viral trend of review bombing and sustained downvoting campaigns?
In the video above YouTube confirms that, rolling out gradually from today, it'll address part of the challenge by hiding the dislike 'count' on videos. The button will still be there, and disliking content will still influence your recommendations (and likely have some impact on the site's algorithm, but that's a bit of speculation on our part), but the count won't be shown to the public. Creators will still be able to see it in their analytics, though, should they want that data feedback. If you're feeling cynical, too, hiding it from public view may also allow YouTube to sell the data to external marketing agencies in the future.
Of course, in the gaming space we've seen the dislike count 'weaponised' a great deal. Our little gag in the headline was referring to the continual campaign that has seen Nintendo Switch Online videos heavily downvoted, which reached new levels with the overview trailer of the Expansion Pack. Also, in a humorous oversight, YouTube's own video confirming this change has initially shown its rather high dislike count publicly.
It is worth noting, though, that there are valid reasons to hide downvotes and dislike button counts, as it's incontrovertible that they have been used in deeply hurtful and toxic ways online. The anonymity of those vote buttons can allow people to target and harass content creators on grounds of race, sexuality, gender, politics and other factors. Taking away the visible count is an attempt to avoid aggressive and potentially harmful campaigns making use of the metric.
Of course, there'll be lots of different views on this - is it worth also dropping the 'like' count, for example, making the 'votes' a means of managing your own recommendations and little more? There's no simple option to please everyone, that's for sure.
Let us know whether you agree with YouTube's move down in the comments.