YouTube really is the world’s biggest online video party, averaging just over 3 billion views per day. However, when you invite 3 billion people to your party you have to expect that some of them are going to leave a mess behind. And for YouTube, that mess is primarily found in the comments section. YouTube comments have become simple shorthand for everything awful on the internet, but according to head of operations Robert Kyncl, the video giant is going to take another shot at cleaning up the toxic waste dump simmering under its most popular videos.
YouTube comments are notorious bastions of everything gross and inane on the internet. Hate comments, misogyny and homophobia sit neatly next to a ton of spam advertising that has little if anything to do with the content of the video in question. The feature has become so polluted that a number of creators, including YouTube’s top performer Pewdiepie, have stopped using comments entirely. That doesn’t look good for YouTube and it definitely doesn’t impress the advertisers that YouTube is anxious to attract in larger numbers.
In an interview, Kyncl acknowledged that comments were a problem and alluded a number of solutions being pursued by Google engineers. YouTube’s global expansion has meant balancing the desire for openness, free speech, and anonymity with complying with local laws in countries that don’t consider free anonymous speech to be a right. “We have a lot of efforts underway in that area.” Kyncl told reporters. “It’s really important, and it’s tied to how the identity is displayed. If people are using a hidden identity, it’s easy for them to make less desirable comments.” The comments indicate that Google may once again attempt to enforce a “real name” policy for YouTube comments.
YouTube tried to clean up its act once before when it rolled out mandatory Google Plus integration. The hope then was that Google Plus’ strict rules about real names and identities would make a dent in the number of people leaving undesirable comments under the veil of anonymity. In reality, Google Plus integration had more to do with forcibly onboarding users of Google’s most popular social platform, YouTube, onto the less popular Google Plus. Ultimately that integration did little to improve to quality of comments across the site and YouTube eventually walked back its commitment to real names.
For now, comments remain a persistent blemish on the otherwise pristine face of YouTube. Depsite adding an array of comment management tools and attempting to tamp down on toxic anonymity, comment sections continue to populate with spam and abuse. Is there a way for YouTube to maintain its open door policy and still cultivate a cleaner comment culture? If there is, it’s in the hands of Google engineers now.
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