Social networks and collective prejudices, by Albert Moukheiber

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A distracted internet user wouldn’t notice. But recently, online video giant YouTube made one of the biggest changes in its history by “hiding” the counter for “dislikes,” those thumb-down pictograms. The platform, which records more than 1 billion hours of video every day around the world, believes its gesture will make the environment more welcoming to content creators by reducing harassment and explosions of negative emojis. Behind the turmoil was a previously unreleased internal study linking thumb-down hiding with better sanity from the creators. The “little ones” among them are fighting to get their chain off the ground. They say they are frequently targeted, unfairly, by unfavorable opinion campaigns. These end up making your videos invisible because Google’s algorithms don’t recommend them.

Therefore, the gesture of the technology giant seems commendable. However, since this change is underway, almost all content providers have voiced strong criticism. One of YouTube’s co-founders, Jawed Karim, even changed the description of the first video uploaded to the service, Me at the Zoo, to express his displeasure. Beneath this 18-second cult movie, viewed over 200 million times, Internet users can now read: “When all YouTubers agree that removing the dislike counter is a bad idea, it’s because ‘ it’s probably one. ”

To justify his gesture, Jawed Karim explains that the relationship “number of thumbs up” and “number of thumbs down” is an essential indicator to identify inappropriate content on a platform. He clarified: “Inevitably, some of the content generated by users will not be of good quality, which is not serious, but Internet users should have the opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff. In that sense, displeasure.” The counter is useful as it somehow reflects the wisdom of the crowd. ”

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The tutorials accurately evaluated

On this point, Jawed Karim is absolutely right. The ratio of inches to inches is a relatively good indicator of content quality. Of course, it could be objected that, these days, the crowd is not really wise, that part of the population tends to radicalize and that the change that YouTube operates comes at the right time. But this is a very narrow view. Because aside from some highly polarized videos, where the like / dislike ratio is necessarily skewed, the wisdom of the crowd is clearly expressed in most cases. An example: among the most viewed videos on the platform are the famous tutorials: how to change your tap, repair your washing machine, etc. For this type of content, the Like / Dislike ratio is a very good indicator of value. In particular, it allows Internet users to detect fallacious speeches, which are relatively frequent.

In social psychology, following the opinions of others can be a very good thing. This is called informational compliance: When I recognize that other individuals have a better informational quality than I do on a subject that I do not understand, it is advantageous to conform to their opinion rather than give an opinion myself. With the change made by YouTube, this is sadly no longer possible. The consequences are not very serious when it comes to finding the best tips for making a table or baking a cake. However, compliance with the information is also restricted for more serious social, scientific or political problems.

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For example, if you look at the video of Eric Zemmour’s meeting in Villepinte, you will see 16,000 likes appear without any visible dislike. Likewise, the video of Emmanuel Macron with Carlito and McFly generated 1.3 million initials of approval and no apparent signs of dissatisfaction. These figures can be misinterpreted as massive validation of these interventions, when potentially more people are not buying them. In a period in which disinformation is gaining ground to the point of becoming a great challenge for our societies, even more so during an electoral period in which propaganda can wreak havoc due to the lack of tools against fake news to our layout, just keeping the thumb up creates additional difficulty. As a researcher, one can only disapprove … a thumbs down.


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