Is YouTube acting dishonestly?

Last week, a study by Mozilla was published to show that YouTube’s “dislike” buttons don’t seem to do much.

The study found that YouTube continues to display similar content to users even though they have clearly expressed their disapproval.

Technology review concludes in their reporting about the study:

“a new study finds, those tools don’t do much. Instead, users have little power to keep unwanted videos (…) out of their recommendations.

I would like to suggest a different conclusion.

First of all, YouTube doesn’t serve you what’s in your best interest but what’s in their best interest. Almost certainly, they will try to keep you engaged for as long as possible so that you stay on their platform for as long as possible.

This can only work if you keep engaging with what they suggest.

Which leads to the question why they wouldn’t honor your feedback? In other words: If you say you don’t like something why do they keep recommending you similar things?

Two explanations seem plausible:

First, YouTube explains that the algorithm behind the “dislike” button works different than you might expect. It means “don’t show me this video again”. So, it doesn’t extend to similar videos.

Second (and this is a guess), they might optimize not based on what you say you want (or don’t want) to watch but based on what you actually watch.

So, an important question seems to be how often users who said that they “dislike” a video kept clicking on similar videos. Because, if they keep on clicking those, YouTube might – correctly – assume that that’s engages them.

In other words: Unlike what Technology Review suggests, users do have power over what gets recommended: By taking action. If you don’t want to see a specific genre of content, don’t click on it. Resist the clickbait, stop clicking on it. I bet that, sooner or later, YouTube will take notice and stop recommending this kind of content to you.

(Or, why not just pick a book?)

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz


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