In a comically belated bid to raise the tone of its appalling comments sections, YouTube is removing dislike counts.
It’s the latest move by a tech giant tweaking a feature, developed innocently years ago, that has evolved into a destructive force for some people. Like and dislike counts have been cited by researchers not only as tools for harassment but also as factors in how social media damages some users’ mental health. Facebook and Instagram introduced the option for all users to hide public like counts earlier this year, after a test starting in 2019. The same year, Twitter explored whether to obscure likes and retweets.
It seems quaint to point it out these days, but YouTube comments formed an implicit social network—a huge one—and were the place where the internet’s contemporary culture of reactionary hostility formed and spread unchecked, even as the company cultivated the YouTuber revolution up top. YouTube removing dislikes in 2021 is fascinating in what it says about Google’s negligence and inertia over a phenomenon (usually over-attributed to other places) it surely recognized all along.
It seems that the growing medical dimension of the problem is what led to action. Every corporation has a principled and noble commitment to “free speech” until someone’s bill punches them in the mouth.