No judgment: value optimization and the reinvention of reviewing on YouTube

Blake Hallinan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Social media platforms employ algorithmic recommendations to optimize the user's experience and incentivize particular forms of cultural production. While prior research shows that creators respond to these incentives and seek to optimize their content in return, the normative implications of this process are ambiguous and contentious. To examine the values promoted by platforms, this study focuses on YouTube reviews, a popular genre that crosses communities and foregrounds values. Employing content and thematic analyses of 200 videos, I find that creators communicate value consistently: good products are aesthetic, functional, distinctive, and either pleasurable or resonant, while good reviewers are relatable above all else. I develop the concept of value optimization to refer to communicative strategies that appeal to the perceived values of a platform and show how creators' tendency to qualify their evaluations and avoid strong judgments transforms the historical function of reviewing. Finally, I discuss implications for future research on the platformization of cultural production.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberzmad034
JournalJournal of Computer-Mediated Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s).


  • YouTube
  • creators
  • evaluation
  • optimization
  • platformized cultural production
  • platforms
  • reviews
  • values


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