Felix Kjellberg, who is better known as PewDiePie, is the most subscribed creator on YouTube with over 30 million subscribers on his gaming channel. As a result, he experiences the platform in probably the most intense way possible. That’s why we stood up and took notice on Friday when PewDiePie posted a video announcing that he was disabling comments on his videos going forward, citing the huge volume of hate comments, spam, and lack of participation by genuine fans. The move makes him the most prominent creator so far to dump YouTube’s notoriously toxic comments section.
PewDiePie joins a growing list of prominent YouTube creators who have found comments to be more of a hindrance than a help when it came to building communities. Media and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian has received both praise and criticism for her decision to disable comments on her highly visible YouTube channel “Feminist Frequency” in order to silence the death threats and misogyny commonly found there. Meanwhile, no less a leading light than VidCon founder Hank Green today tweeted “I’m gonna go ahead and say it out loud. @YouTube…”Top Comments” is a broken and bad system that promotes bad discourse. Please Stop.” Green’s tweet places blame on YouTube’s comment-surfacing algorithm for the decline in comment quality.
As YouTube has emerged as a mainstream entertainment platform its comments have proved to be a major stumbling block. Brands and mainstream artists who might otherwise have embraced YouTube’s huge potential have been turned off by a comments section jammed with spam, racism, sexism, and vitriol of all kinds. They were even name-checked in Macklemore’s 2012 hit single “Same Love” as a haven for homophobia. John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” recently posted a filler video ridiculing YouTube comments for their inane and hateful content. It’s a problem that YouTube has famously attempted to clean up its comments by integrating the commenting system with fledgling social network Google Plus. The hope was that if users had to log in with a real name it would rob hate commenters of the anonymity they relied on as a shield. That effort did lead to a dramatic decrease in the overall number of comments but no significant changes to the content or quality of comments. In July of this year YouTube quietly yielded to pressure from users by loosening its formerly strict Google Plus name policies effectively reopening the door to anonymous commenters.
While the impact of YouTube’s most prominent creator closing the book on comments remains to be seen, it’s a fairly clear indication of something the community has long known. That comments are easily the most dysfunctional part of an otherwise successful platform. With PewDiePie leading the way, it’s likely that even more creators may choose to follow suit.