YouTube has a ‘Dislike’ button. But it is useless for (almost) nothing.

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“Wow, this video sucks. I’m going to hit the ‘I don’t like’ (or ‘I’m not interested’) button so YouTube knows about it and doesn’t recommend similar videos to me again.” Surely when you click on that button you think you are helping the recommendation system improve, right? Well (it seems that) It is not like this. Google’s service, which was already becoming a headache for the company, continues to receive criticism.

Does the ‘Dislike’ button work? This is the question that Mozilla wanted to answer —theirs is, among other things, the Firefox browser—, where have conducted a study that has lasted for months and that has included qualitative and quantitative data. In this analysis they have evaluated data from m’sa of 20,000 users who have used the extension RegretsReporter and that they have offered data on more than 500 million YouTube videos.

That button is (almost) useless. According to Mozilla’s findings, “YouTube continues to recommend videos that people have clearly indicated they no longer want to watch, including war footage and gruesome horror clips.” 62.3% of the participants indicated that these controls did little or nothing in terms of the service’s recommendations. One of the participants indicated that this control “has not changed anything. Sometimes I would report things for being misleading and spam and the next day they would appear again […] Even when you block certain sources, they come back.”

Videos you don’t like still show up 9 times out of 10. At least according to that Mozilla data, which indicated that the “Dislike” button only prevented 11% of spam recommendations. It therefore seems normal (and worrying) that even if you don’t like something, YouTube continues to recommend similar and related content. The influence of this interaction is very low when it should help to define our preferences much more.

People end up taking control. The study found that people don’t always understand how YouTube’s controls affect their recommendations, so they end up taking control. People sign out, create new accounts, or use privacy tools just to manage their YouTube recommendations.

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The data confirms that people are right. The most “effective” user control according to the study was “Do not recommend the channel”, but compared to users who do not use YouTube’s user controls, only 43% of unwanted recommendations are avoided , and sometimes unwanted channel recommendations persist.

YouTube can solve this problem. According to Mozilla, YouTube can do a better job of letting people control their recommendations. Among the suggestions from that team of researchers is to make YouTube’s controls more proactive, allowing users to shape their own experience, and giving researchers greater access to YouTube’s API and other tools.

On YouTube they know it and they have an explanation. A YouTube spokesperson commented on The Verge that the platform never completely vetoes a topic. According to YouTube, removing these recommendations “could create echo chambers.” Those responsible for the platform appreciated Mozilla’s effort, but according to them that report “does not take into account how our systems actually work and, therefore, it is difficult for us to get many ideas.”

“Wow, this video sucks. I’m going to hit the ‘I don’t like’ (or ‘I’m not interested’) button so YouTube knows…

“Wow, this video sucks. I’m going to hit the ‘I don’t like’ (or ‘I’m not interested’) button so YouTube knows…

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