The right to express personal opinions is a cornerstone of the internet, and it’s a concept which has been enthusiastically embraced by social media platforms.
You can express your appreciation of a particular piece of content, share it…or criticise it.
The mechanisms for this vary from one site to the next. Reddit and 9gag support downvoting, while message boards often feature ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ emoji.
However, the use of social media dislike buttons has attracted controversy, with accusations that they’ve evolved into a tool beloved by trolls and cyberbullies.
As a result, one or two social media sites are phasing out the ability to express controversial negative opinions – ironically sparking controversy and negative opinions in the process…
Down with the sickness
The ongoing debate about social media dislike buttons flared up again last week, when YouTube announced it would no longer display the number of dislikes each video receives.
As the world’s second-largest search engine (behind parent company Google), and one of the biggest online communities of users, YouTube’s actions attract huge interest and analysis.
The company claim this step is being taken to tackle the concept of ‘dislike bombing’, when concerted campaigns are undertaken to criticise a particular piece of content.
YouTube also says it will reduce “stress and embarrassment” for content creators whose work can’t be publicly denigrated.
(Since creators will continue to be informed of the figures from the still-active dislike button, that’s a questionable motive).
The implicit intention is to prevent cyberbullying and trolling, as well as reducing the impact of cancel culture and professionally-outraged woke mobs.
Yet as well-intentioned as this move may be, it will inevitably have less favourable consequences:
As yet, other social media platforms have yet to follow YouTube’s lead.
Ironically, Netflix dropped a five-star rating system earlier this year in favour of a simpler thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down voting system.
It’s likely that such changes benefit brands and politicians more than entrepreneurial content creators, though YouTube naturally denies this is the intention of its move.
Either way, you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see this coming…
Hate to say I told you so
Social media’s evolution from information portal to alternate universe was bound to unleash negative forces, of which trolling and mass downvoting are ubiquitous examples.
However, there’s a hypocrisy to banning criticism while allowing compliments.
Without a dislike or downvote button, social media sites like Reddit simply couldn’t function. Upvoting establishes quality content, literally elevating it above less worthwhile material.
It’s also against the egalitarian nature of the internet to refuse to allow negative opinions.
Imagine if TripAdvisor only published positive reviews, or if Deliveroo users couldn’t complain about bad service from a local takeaway.
Humans are instinctively negative-biased, so one criticism usually outweighs ten compliments.
The internet can be a brutal forum when expressing contentious opinions, but eliminating social media dislike buttons looks more like pandering to vanity than preserving mental health.
Despite YouTube’s protestations, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a retrograde step in our relationship with content creators and distributors.