We’ve all gone on YouTube and watched a video, or maybe even made a video, then scrolled down to the comments and seen it– people being willfully, unnecessarily mean.
This kind of behavior is all over the internet, but YouTube seems to bring out a certain level of vitriol you don’t always find elsewhere.
The question is– why?
They Have Anonymity
The most obvious of culprits. Anonymity isn’t in and of itself a detriment to internet culture. It allows numerous people, particularly teens, to reach out and find their voices and other people like them without a risk of alienation. But at the same time, when people don’t have to attach their name and their face to a statement, they’re so much more willing to say things they wouldn’t if they were genuinely being held accountable for their words.
Moreover, people don’t have to say these things face to face. Even if they do write nasty comments under their own name, or a pseudonym that’s easily traced back to them, the acting of typing out comments rather than having to say them to a person’s face is almost a form of anonymity itself. You remove part of the humanity out of the equation when you put a computer screen and possibly thousands of miles between a deliverer and a receiver of comments. The offending party doesn’t have to see the reaction to, the fall out of, their words. They can brush off the guilt of knowing it might hurt the other person, because after they say something, they can simply click away.
YouTubers Are Outliers
YouTube is a place where the videos fill specific niches. Many of the people who post things on YouTube tend to post videos that are outside of socially constructed norms, or they themselves are a little different from what society teaches us should be respected or celebritized. And sometimes people don’t like that hierarchy of social norms questioned, rearranged.
Whether a YouTubers is posting something that plays towards a very specific humorous sensibility, or a rant about why we need feminism, or a music video with a singer that wouldn’t quite make the “Hollywood cut” for singers, those are all outside the norm of what we’ve grown up with. Especially with so much of the YouTube demographic skewing towards younger (aka often high school) age, they can still be in the mindset of trying to “put people back in their place,” which they may try to achieve with derogatory comments. Which also relates to…
It’s not a pretty side of humanity, by any means. But people like to feel powerful. And unfortunately, one completely messed up way of achieving the temporary feeling of that is by putting others down. Particularly when people don’t have control of their own lives, knowing that they can manipulate the emotions of others in a negative sense can be a thrill for them.
This point has a flip side. Power can bring out the worst not just in commenters, but in everybody, including people making the videos on YouTube. We’ve seen plenty of occasions where YouTubers have exploited (often younger) fans because they know they have power over them, or bullied other people themselves because they have their legion of fans behind them who have convinced them they’re in the right. It’s an easy thing to wield incorrectly and ultimately abuse.
The YouTube comment culture probably isn’t going away anytime soon, but we can all work towards making it a slightly safer, kinder place by not contributing to the vitriol, reporting people who get out of hand, and, if you have an audience, reminding people to consider other people’s feelings before speaking their minds.
Check out some of our other articles this week for more information about dealing with people who leave mean comments.