Likes, dislikes, social media and mental health

Likes are always welcome, but social media platforms are now realizing that likes need to be redesigned with mental health issues in mind.

When cooking a special meal, you always want to use the best ingredients to make it great. When you think about social media, the best ingredient for social media analytics is a healthy audience. After all, an audience’s activity on a social media profile creates metrics from which marketers can learn to better connect with people. A safe environment is one where permission-based marketing is accepted, which also improves brand safety.

But when people don’t feel safe from trolls, more than simple measures can be at risk. Social media platforms have begun adjusting their features to discourage abusive trolling, making it safe for influencers to avoid harassment and improving the overall quality of user mental health protection.

YouTube removed ‘dislike’ counts from hosted videos and live streams on the platform as part of a beta experiment – in August it launched the removed count feature on all accounts . The removal highlights social media’s attempt to protect the mental health of their users while controlling brand safety.

Related article: Mastering brand reputation management in the age of social media

How YouTube’s Decision to Remove the ‘Dislike’ Count Matters

Viewers of a given video can indicate that they dislike a given video by clicking the thumbs down icon. The dislike number appeared once next to the icon. Now only the dislike icon is displayed, part of an updated appearance of the video player appearance. The “Like” count and associated thumbs-up icon remain. Removing dislike counts from public view was designed to discourage trolls from inflating dislike counts and targeting individuals.

Trolls have looked for many ways to abuse people online. This usually meant rude comments, which can be reported on a given social media platform. But new aggressive behaviors emerged as social media platforms added features. On YouTube, trolls click the dislike button on videos hosted by their targets. Hitting it repeatedly increases the dislike count, creating a negative perception of a given video. Likes have become a social currency, a sign of support from many people, so likes are meant to humiliate their targets wherever possible.

Related article: Are social media ruining our lives?

When likes and lives are at stake

So while social media algorithms see downvotes as a factor in demoting a video or post, social media platforms realize that it can also be a sign of harassment. In response, social media platforms decided to reevaluate how certain features can be misused to create an air of harassment.

Over the years, various tech insiders have commented on the need to refine social media metrics as they relate to mental health. Evan Williamsco-founder of Twitter, noted the need for better metrics in 2012. In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Meta, announced that he was considering removing likes (I explained some of the reasons in my message on sentiment analysis).

But these simple observations date back to 2012. The impact of social media on mental health was not even considered well-documented. Social media was just too new. Today, people are questioning internet behavior that contributes to poor mental health.

Bad human behavior has not changed with the enlightened understanding of the negative consequences social media can have on mental health. In 2017, a Pew Research study reported that 4 in 10 adults surveyed said they had been harassed online. And 66% said they had witnessed harassment. This is a slight increase since Pew’s previous study in 2014. Fast forward to 2020, Bench found that although the rates were similar, the intensity of bullying increased, with 41% reporting being bullied and 25% experiencing more extreme bullying.

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