In 2006, on the cusp of Web 2.0 and the social media revolution, Andrew Keen wrote The Cult of the Amateur. In the book, he argues that “blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values.”
Among the many words of caution issued by Keen is that in an online world, community-wide trust is very hard to find. There is perhaps no better evidence to illustrate this point than in the comments dialogue on many YouTube videos. You have probably noticed that the discussion below each video regularly turns unproductive, nonconstructive, extremely vulgar and even hateful.
The trend even makes its way into lyrics of popular music. Take these Macklemore and Ryan Lewis lyrics from the song Same Love, for example:
If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me. Have you read the YouTube comments lately? “Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily.
One possible explanation for Internet users acting in a way that they wouldn’t want their mothers to witness is the ease of creating alternative identities. Anonymity allows individuals to act online without any actual repercussions in “real life.”
That explanation is supported by a recent study covered by TechCrunch. Comments on the website of The Washington Post articles were compared to the comments on the Facebook post directing to the same article. And it was found that “Facebook users are about twice as civil as the anonymous trolling netizens that comb the badlands of The Washington Post’s comment section.”
So the solution seems fairly obvious: disallowing anonymity results in more productive, less offensive comments.
Great news, everyone: In late September, Google announced a number of changes to the commenting of its YouTube site. Among the benefits, at least in my opinion, is that commenters will be required to sign into a Google+ account in order to add to the discussion.
Sure, this might result in less YouTube comments and some angry Internet Trolls. But the added layer of identification will help to make the comments below your favorite video actually relevant.
What do you think of the changes to YouTube comments?