Last Friday, Ryan Tate posted “YouTube Is Developing a Secret Weapon Against the Internet’s Worst Commenters” on Wired.com. Tate wrote this article with practically no substantive knowledge but it does bring up some interesting points. The article describes extremely vague allusions Youtube has made to reworking its comment system, as well as speculations as to possible solutions to commenters’ merciless trolling. Tate quotes Youtube Head of Product Dror Shimshowitz, “We’re working on some improvements to the comment system, so hopefully we’ll have an update on that in the next few months.” “Secret weapons” seem to mean functionally non-existent weapons.
This situation is a prime example of the contention between ideas of the internet as a utopian commons, a many-to-many information hierarchy in which people all over the world can freely engage in dialogue, and the internet as an economic behemoth.
The article asserts that the most viable, and obvious, means of dealing with Youtube trolls is to require commenters to post under their Google+ or Facebook profiles, forcing them to use their real names as opposed to self-selected handles. Trolling is born out of anonymity, and requiring a verified identity would certainly quell hateful, racist, and arbitrary commenting.
Alternately, requiring users to sign in to their Google accounts to comment would compound both platforms’ advertising capabilities via synthesizing and utilizing user data to refine targeted audiences. Theoretically, both companies would benefit economically. A significant decrease in negative comments would also make the site more attractive to advertisers on the whole.
As the article mentions, Youtube has already implemented several features in efforts to better moderate comment quality. The top comments section democratically bumps the most-liked comments to the top of the section. Comments can also be flagged as spam or removed for receiving too many negative votes.
Requiring users to sign into their Google accounts to comment is an excellent solution for increasing advertising revenue. Monetization aside, Youtube should rely more heavily on its audience for comment regulation and work towards an interface that fosters those early, Randian conceptions of online communities as egalitarian ecosystems. Surely, for every troll posting racist video comments, there are enough commenters to quickly dislike and delete them.
The opportunity to subvert one’s identity within online communities is central to the values and beliefs upon which civilian internet use was built. Movements such as Occupy and groups like Anonymous have demonstrated the immense and very concrete potential for the internet as an effective tool for social and political agency.
Hopefully, in light of current events, the general public will begin to think of their internet lives in a more socially responsible manner and better understand the potentiality that internet access provides them, even in regards to Justin Beiber videos.
Hand Motions is a blog column on DINCA continually featuring writing from Louis Doulas, Wyatt Niehaus and Ria Roberts.