Removing the YouTube Dislike Button is a Gateway to Spam

Richard Steinhardt

Tech Correspondent

After Google (“YouTube”) decided to remove the public “dislike” button from all videos, there was an uproar from users and channel operators across the platform and the Web.

Yesterday I had a tech problem that I decided to get arranged, and the only guidance I could find on the subject anywhere was two YouTube videos on the issue.

I watched one of the videos and it felt suspicious. The guy making the video had millions of views, but wanted viewers to download a third-party app to their phones, and instal the solution.

He guided viewers through the steps of how they needed to locate the app download, download and instal the app, disable privacy and security functions on their phones to run invalidated apps, and then running the app by the end of the video.

That was a massive amount of red flags, not to mention there was never any repair or troubleshooting ever done in the actual video. Looking through the comments section, there were thousands of comments (the video had millions of views and was from a “verified” channel on YouTube), but there was something wrong.

All the comments were almost exactly the same, but the accounts had different names, sporadic numbers of upvotes, and all unwaveringly praised the video above.

After scrolling through hundreds of comments, there were just two comments from real people. Both of them were saying, “This is fake” and “LOL at all the fake comments, feel sorry for anyone who buys this.”

It was obvious at that moment that this entire video, and this entire channel, was a scam, and a scam supported by an intricate and dangerous botnet spawning YouTube comments to lend false credibility to the video. Most of the fake comments were something like, “I was sceptical, but it actually worked,” repeated in identical text over hundreds and hundreds of times.

Since it was so obviously a scam, and so infected with fake comments, there was a second way to check that the video was a scam: viewer feedback. How many dislikes were there? And what was the like-to-dislike ratio?

At that moment it became there that the video did have millions of views and tens of thousands of likes, but there was no dislike counter — no way to know if it was a scam.

Having been failed by YouTube, I looked for this video, and this app, on Reddit. The man running the YouTube channel told viewers to go to a third-party website and download an unverified, third-party app, assuring viewers, “It’s okay to deactivate security, I’ve tried this and we all know it’s safe.” Reddit vaguely agreed.

I downloaded the app, turned off security, and was about to instal, when I got a final prompt, by the phone manufacturer, telling me everything that this third-party script was about to do on the phone. Looking through it, the app was in no uncertain terms about to scan the phone for private information and relay it to the developer.

I denied the app at this final step and went back to Reddit. I found another post by a sceptical user on the Reddit forums, who was weary about the app. This time, someone in the replies affirmed that the app scans for, steals, and transmits private data, but they still recommended downloaded the app from somewhere else, and not the place suggested in the YouTube video.

Desperate to get the issue over with, I downloaded the other distribution of the app, and I looked through it (after turning off security again). There was less scanning going on this time, but it still wasn’t trustworthy.

I looked for another video on YouTube, and found an option that included no download, however it was also suspicious. After going to the comments again, that video too had hundreds, if not thousands, of fake comments from fake YouTube accounts, all with identical text praising the video in very vague and misleading ways.

This time, the scam was to waste viewers’ time and get them to watch to the end while still left with their problem and no resolution — it was a clickbait scam, farming for views.

It was difficult to find any viable comments from real people because of the mountain of spam they were buried other. Fake comments were moving up, and real comments were being put down. Sorting by “Top” or sorting by “New” didn’t help, and there were too many to effectively go through by hand.

On this particular video, it was uploaded twice by the same channel, and scrolling through the comments made it apparent that the same accounts that commented on the first video made the exact same comments on the second re-upload.

A real person would not watch a tutorial video that actually fixes their problem, then comment on that video, go to an older version or reupload of the video, and copy the same comment there. It was obviously another botnet, if not the same botnet deployed across three videos and two channels, all on the same tutorial problem.

And these three videos were all boosted to the top of the YouTube and Google search algorithm for the particular problem at hand.

Spam on YouTube is a massive problem, and virtually nothing has been done to clean up spammers and botnets on the program. In this particular scam, one side of it was lying to viewers for clickbait views, and the other was actively promoting a dangerous security breach via millions of views on YouTube, unless those views were the results of bots as well.

I went back to the post supporting the video on Reddit, and I found a link to the website operated by the YouTube channel in question. The website, with the YouTube channel’s name in the URL, had been deactivated, and the content was gone.

It was so obviously a scam, but it was the commitment despite the clumsy execution that made the scammers more dangerous, because they outright employ botnets, host bad links, and make clickbait videos telling YouTube viewers to deactivate built-in security measures for their devices.

One YouTube comment on that video, which I discovered after going back through the spambots, pointed out that the guy making the YouTube video actually broke the device by the end and never mentioned it and never fixed it.

Scams on YouTube are real. Spambots running YouTube is real. YouTube is removing a safety feature and giving credibility to scammers by not limiting the effect of fake comments, fake views, and fake likes on the site, but eliminating entirely the ability for genuine dislikes against scammers.

Not to mention, what could have potentially taken 0.5 seconds to identify a scam outright has now been a two-day journey of false hope and very real security scares. One Reddit user even responded, to no replies, “How worried should I be that I downloaded and installed the app?

YouTube isn’t a social media site — it’s a consumption medium for content and information. Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are driven by text-based, short-lived posts, but YouTube is more analogous to a television network or a shopping channel, ergo the word “Tube” being in the title.

Removing the dislike button, dashing user feedback, and scrapping any and all credibility in the site, opens the door to spamware attacks on viewers, especially for niche issues that are not supported by the first-party developers, manufacturers, or brands.

Even an unsophisticated attack can get very far on YouTube, because on a product built for convenience and not much possibility for feedback or engagement, it is extremely difficult for the average person to quickly or effectively check on the validity of claims being made in a video. Google removed one of the only alleviations to one of the deepest problems on the site.

Google has to either reinstate the dislike counter immediately, in addition to taking measures against botnets, or it sends a message to users to never, ever, trust another tutorial video on the platform again. Even if an otherwise credible content creator makes an unintentional omission or has an oversight or something gets outdated, viewers have no way of knowing that if the comments are heavily one-sided or stale, and there is no warning update from the uploaded in the description.

Removing the dislike button, which had a specific use-case in the terms of how YouTube effectively works given other big problems with the platform, is just a terrible and unsafe turn for the worse.

The reason Google gave for making the change was that the dislike button doesn’t add much information to the videos and it allows a loophole for negative feedback from spammers.

The concept of downvote brigading, where a group of opponents to a particular channel or ideology seek out and dislike YouTube videos en masse, was the unnamed impetus Google gave for removing the dislike counter.

However, there’s been pushback from the YouTube world, namely (1.) that brigading is not as big an issue as Google claims, (2.) the dislike button is more useful than Google suggests by brushing it off as redundant, and (3.) Google’s response is ill-conceived, excessive, and heavy-handed.

Critics of YouTube have responded that ‘brigading’ on the site is a non-issue since no readily-documented cases of people being targeted by dislikes, as YouTube claims, have been specifically cited.

If the like-to-dislike ratio on a video is disingenuous or the uploader doesn’t want to see that information, they already have the easy option to remove the like-dislike counter, whenever they want.

YouTube has been caught lying to the YouTube community by making empty statements such as “the dislike button will not be removed” or suggesting the decision was validated by “small-scale testing.”

Any website administrator should know that ‘small-scale’ tests are not indicative of anything, especially on a billion-user-wide system, like YouTube.

Google is lying to its users by offering false justifications for its completely unilateral and unpopular actions. Suggesting there is no meaningful difference between removing the public dislike counter, and removing the dislike “button” itself, is another untruth so deep that it’s just a lie.

Google’s actions on YouTube have been attacked as nonsensical and the worst kind of overcorrecting, with users citing possible workarounds Google could have tried on YouTube instead, before removing the dislike counter entirely in a surprise decision.

Google already logs user’s dislike activity, so it would have been a smaller adjustment to tweak how dislikes are used on an individual basis, rather than to hide the feature for everyone.

Not only does removing the dislike counter disenfranchise user engagement, it also causes a chilling effect on dislikes in general. If people lose faith in their efficacy, even videos that deserve more dislikes won’t get them.

There have been questions about what the dislike button even does on YouTube, and commentators like YouTube megastar Jim Donaldson have suggested that the dislike button actually helps views rank higher in the YouTube algorithm, because it still serves as a form of engagement. Ignoring something is apparently worse than hating it, which shows a window into YouTube’s attention-hungry market strategy.

All the big content independent creators on YouTube have come out against the move by Google, including Felix Chelberg and Marques Brownlee, and even the founder of YouTube before it was sold to Google, Jawed Karim.

Jawed opposed the change on his YouTube account. Comparing the announcement to the torture of American captives in the Vietnam War, Jawed said: “Something is off… The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform.

YouTube’s founder continued, “There is a reason YouTube made this universally disliked change, but it’s not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed. Instead, there will be references to various studies that contradict the common sense of every YouTuber.

The change to remove the dislike button, a feature which outlives Google purchasing the site, overrode many burning concerns from the YouTube realm, leaving many people asking: What does YouTube have to hide?

Jawed concluded that YouTube is in decline due to Google interfering with content and breaking the platform, adding, “They fucked it up.

Google addressed this with two pre-drafted questions directly: “Is the change because people disliked YouTube Rewind?” and “Is this about protecting big brands and advertisers?

In an uncharacteristic move, Google’s YouTube spokespersons responded to and denied both allegations, as opposed to continuing to ignore the criticism, stating the change was specifically initiated to stop large-scale dislike bombing and the negative effect brigading can have against small, independent channels on YouTube. YouTube also vaguely admitted that the user experience, as opposed to the uploader one, would be diminished.

The constant hiding behind downvote brigading, frankly, is very difficult to believe.

From a business perspective, small channels on YouTube don’t make money. This is why YouTube blocked small creators from monetising videos or accessing certain features in the editor until reaching a minimum viewership. YouTube doesn’t care about small creators, who they harass with phony copyright strikes, crush with a racist and clickbait-heavy “algorithm,” and readily dash their revenue.

Stirring up the user and content base in a massive way can only negatively affect monetary flow, but all YouTube’s most-hated CEO, Susan Wojcicki, cares about is money — so what the hell is the reason behind this.

As Jawed Karim said, YouTube is “broken” and people will never get the reason unless there is a serious collapse on the site, like a leak, a whistleblower report, or a the site crashes enough to force a reversal or an apology.

YouTube stated during ‘testing’ that viewership didn’t go down among those people who were observed using the site but couldn’t use the dislike button as much or as easily. That means YouTube determined that this was a feature they could afford to mess around with and scrap.

But for those who don’t fall for Google’s bromides about ‘protecting the little guy’ by crushing his right to choose, the question still remains as to why.

Speculations popped up everywhere that the real reason behind the decision to remove dislikes involuntarily is that the most downvoted videos on YouTube are always corporate videos, or videos by political campaigns and clickbait. Unlike small content creators, each of these three categories makes Google a lot of money.

The Failure of YouTube Rewind

YouTube Rewind was a corporatised version of the YouTube message: Years before people scrambled to become “Insta-famous” or “TikTok famous” off the backs of soft-core teen porn, YouTube became huge with the notion that anyone can be “YouTube famous” through substantial and committed work in video game streams and DIY tutorials.

YouTube Rewind was a place where Google handpicked channels boasting millions of subscribers and injected them with huge corporate sponsors and Hollywood celebrities, which came off as a message to big business advertisers about what they could accomplish on the site. The YouTube realm took umbrage to the undermining of their online “Independent Content Creators” dream, which appeared to be selling out to Google, Inc.

YouTube’s official channel showing Rewind videos had 10’s of millions of dislikes, and almost a 100% dislike ratio, prompting YouTube to stop production of the Rewind videos and take some of the videos down.

Google made the statement in a blog post that public dislikes can cause embarrassment for uploaders, but insisted that the change was to protect only small channels and not large, corporate channels.

Another lie. Anything that “helps” smaller channels would also “help” larger channels. Despite Google going out of their way to say that business won’t benefit, the change only signals that YouTube is being ripped from the hands of the people who built it and turning into a corporate propaganda tool to sell ads, just like every other social media site.

The only entities that will benefit from removing the dislike button are actual propaganda videos, corporate videos, political videos, and scammers.

The idea that a ‘small creator’ would draw enough attention to be victim to a ‘brigading’ attempt on their videos is bullshit. Only a video with millions of views could have millions of downvotes, and if it really bothered the uploader regardless, they always had the option to turn off likes and dislikes before uploading the video, or at any point after.

YouTube censorship has been a growing issue for years, and censoring the dislike button is only a more recent, if massive, addition to that litany of punching down on audiences and creators to squeeze revenue out of them rather than build a viable platform.

Spam videos would’ve continued either way. YouTube is a river of shit and always will be, from racists like SS-Sniper-Wolf, who said being transgender isn’t real and used to make pornographic videos before moving to YouTube, where she now has a controversial partnership with Google and 30 Million subscribers, and continues to make suggestive content but now targeted towards underage children, and continues to make racist comments such as ‘Zendaya is too ugly to pull off a Disney princess other than The Princess and the Frog.’

(https://twitter.com/sssniperwolf/status/241470055915855873)

The typical response to racist, corporate, and scam videos on YouTube is to dislike it, so other people know what they are getting in for.

On YouTube, the botnets persist. The racists flooding children with porn persist on YouTube. But one of the central communication techniques for user-to-user watching each other’s back has been severed.

And shame on Google.

These changes came right off the backs of The Social Dilemma, a documentary on Netflix that highlights the toxicity and negativity on social media, but there are three problems with Google following on that documentary’s heels. The first is that negativity on YouTube will not be reduced, since bad comments and content strike spamming on the site are still broken. And the change will actually expose users to having to wade through more toxic material, not less. And YouTube.com is not a social media site. Something about social media and Google don’t mix, no matter how much they try to push Google+ or hostile crackdowns on users at YouTube.

Critics and complainants have nowhere to go, and no one to complain to, begging the real question behind Google killing YouTube.com: What really is a tech monopoly, and how do we stop them from scamming us all?

Users will now have to look for workarounds, such as depending on disparaging comments more heavily — which is the opposite of what YouTube said they wanted, not to mention it is exceedingly easy for Google and uploaders to censor comments, as opposed to dislikes, or at least it was before the change. Now they censor both.

Or maybe they can use a views-to-likes ratio, or even a like-to-comments ratio like on Twitter instead of direct dislikes, or possibly a combination of all three.

The challenge is defeating misinformation in the forms of petty scams, cell phone viruses, corporate lies, political propaganda, and pseudoscience.

Google just sold credibility for control, and it’s just another in the latest of a list of “Just Be Evil” things they’ve done.

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