YouTube triggers comments debate as it alters policy

Users checking videos on YouTube YouTube's move has sparked a debate among users, many of whom have voiced their displeasure

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How much weight should you give to a stranger's opinion?

If you ask YouTube, the answer is: not much.

The video sharing website has made changes to the way users can comment on clips. Google, which owns the website, now requires them to sign up to its social network Google+ before they can post their thoughts.

Its justification? It says the move will help it customise the order comments are displayed in and give users more tools to moderate posts about their videos.

"Would you rather see comments from people you care about... or just whoever in the world was last to post?" it asked on its blog.

Start Quote

You get much more considered truthful and honest opinions expressed in forums where it is easier to link their comments back to the real names and profiles”

End Quote Robin Hamman Dachis Group Europe

But the move has caused many users to voice displeasure about the changes.

A petition on calling on Google to scrap the move has received nearly 200,000 signatures.

One of the concerns expressed by people supporting it is that by requiring users to have a Google+ profile the firm was taking away their anonymity.

"It's ethically wrong to force these changes onto an unwilling user base as it alienates them while devaluing the quality of the site and tarnishing your credibility," posted Aaron Vollhofer.

Troll trouble

It is perhaps not surprising that Google's move has sparked such a reaction.

Over the past few years the internet has provided a medium for people to express their thoughts and opinions on just about anything. Many of them did so under the cloud of anonymity.

But that has also given rise to a problem - trolls and other rude and uncivil online commentators who sometimes end up dominating the discussions.

"A user posting comments under an anonymous username is much more likely to post in ways that are offensive, unfair and reactionary," Robin Hamman, managing director of Dachis Group Europe, a social business consultancy, told the BBC.

"Giving people the shield of anonymity is basically inviting trouble."

YouTube images YouTube users have posted war-themed drawings to protest against the change

Mr Hamman added that firms were trying to tackle the issue by getting people to create proper profiles.

"You get much more considered, truthful and honest opinions expressed in forums where it is easier to link their comments back to the real names and profiles, which may have a bearing on their professional and personal lives," he explained.

'More vicious'

YouTube is not the only website to alter its policies on user comments in recent months.

In August news website Huffington Post announced it would no longer allow comments from anonymous accounts.

It said it was doing so because "trolls have grown more vicious, more aggressive, and more ingenious. As a result, comment sections can degenerate into some of the darkest places on the internet".

Nanotechnology pic said that aggressively negative comments could skew the interpretation of science stories

The firm said nearly three-quarters of the comments on its website "never see the light of day, either because they are flat-out spam or because they contain unpublishable levels of vitriol".

Then in September, Popular Science, the science and technology news website, shut off all comments on its site. It also blamed trolls.

"We are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide," the website said.

"The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter."

It cited research from the University of Wisconsin, which suggested that intemperate comments could polarise readers and skew their interpretations of a news story.

Some analysts say that the problem with vicious comments stems from the fact that firms were not fully ready to tackle the massive and rapid growth in user interaction.

They say that while companies have been keen to engage in two-way conversations with the public as a way to boost their business, they have not been fully prepared for the costs involved.

"When firms open the forum and comments on their websites they think that user-generated content is a cheap way of bringing more life to their page," said Mr Hamman.

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post has also taken steps to block anonymous users from posting comments

"Unfortunately that's not the case. It needs investment, both in technology and manpower to monitor this.

"By the time many firms realise this - the damage has already started to be inflicted," he added.

However, moderating comments can introduce its own issues.

The BBC, for example, screens posts added below stories on its news website. The move limits the number of stories that can be commented upon, leading some of the discussions to feature complaints from readers criticising the choice of articles.

YouTube and Huffington Post's solution also only goes part of the way to banning trolls.

It's not that difficult for someone to create a fake profile using a fictitious email address and start posting comments.

However, the sites hope that by putting up extra hurdles they may be able to at least discourage some of the troublemakers - or perhaps divert them elsewhere.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    It's annoying having to sign up for something else just to be able to make comments. I cannot comment on any of the amusing Newsthump articles, for example, as you can only do this via Facebook, which I have no intention of joining.

    I'm sure this has at least as much to do with promoting Google+ as it has protecting people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Anyone who gives any creedance to an annoymous coment is nearly as sad as the person making it. Talk about storm in a teacup.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I have always seen YouTube comments as a place where very simple, very angry people come to vent their anger and frustration. For serious discussions I go elsewhere.

    Where will the angry people go now though?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    If you haven't got the guts to say what you want to say directly to someone's face then it ain't worth saying. Any moron can hind behind ....'anonimiteee'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    There are an awful lot of "monkeys with typewriters" posting on YouTube. Some of the comments you read on there are written by sad angry young men who need to get a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Trolling is nasty and used by people that wouldn't be brave enough to say it to someone's face, however this won't really stop it as people feel brave behind their keyboards and will set up various accounts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Free speech! ... so long as you don't get the "wrong" people saying whatever they like. . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Just more nonsense, to grab power and control over the world. Google gets people's details by forcing membership.
    Friends only comments gets nothing but sycophancy. The truth comes only from anonymity. Censorship of opinion where legal is never acceptable. Basically the in power do not like the ordinary having a voice, the BBC a good example. Nothing must disturb the demanded right thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Any site that allows comments is open to abuse, having to use a Google account to make comment is neither here nor there, all that is doing is logging your ip and email address to target you with adverts relevant to the things you have viewed. It's nothing new, it's just the latest in a line of dirty tricks by Google to get your details.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Like many people, I have an online alias and I am known to hundreds of people in my community by that name. This new update even lets me keep that alias on the Google+ account, so what exactly has changed? Nothing, other than the fact I am now forced to use Google+ to respond to questions on my videos. The point about this being used to stop trolls is just wrong and stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    17. Sean
    And you think that making people give a false name, address etc etc will stop the nasty comments? I don't believe so. To be honest, if you don't find the comments useful don't read them, if they are 'hate filled' (and I've no idea to be honest, the couple I've checked weren't) then why not just ignore them.
    The idea we all need spying on to moderate us is ludicrous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I read a book on my tube. I don't comment with anyone in case they shout at me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    YouTube is like public transport after we refused to pay for the moderating effect of conductors. If you don't want to be inundated with hate-filled anonymous comments, you could always pay to be a member of an exclusive forum.

    Oh look! Tumbleweed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @14. Lee
    I suspect the person wants to remain anonymous because they doesn't like being spied on by all and sundry and having everything they do or think analysed by the NSA and others. The 'west' is now the most spied on group of people in the history of the world, worse even than the thought police of 1984.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Several things
    First, like the stupid attempts by the BBC on this site there is NO way of proving the person logging onto google+ is the person they claim to be.
    Second, who reads the comments anyway? They are a waste of time and unimportant.
    Third, this seems like a ham fisted and stupid attempt to gain 'members' or to allow the security services to spy easier. Neither will work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    #2 Lee
    9.Chunk McBeefsteak
    "I just want to have a YouTube channel that doesn't identify me"

    Just of out curiosity, WHY?


    Because I'm a teacher and I don't want my pupils to access all my details. Facebook offers privacy settings; Google+ and YouTube don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Google only did this to trick people into using its failing social network. Comment you write on YouTube videos are now spammed onto Google+ too. Ironically it's made Google+ even less desirable to visit because the news feed is just full of people's boring comments on YouTube videos. But in a few weeks Google will claim Google+ is "more used" than Facebook and Twitter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Nothing to do with trolling and stopping abusive comments. Anybody with an ounce of brain knows that he can create a bogus google+ account and still stay anonymous. Only reason behind this decision is to force people to create more and more google+ accounts- Disgusting tactics by google and very biased reporting from BBC to portray it as something positive!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Nothing much changes, because anyone wanting to remain anonymous only needs to open a Google account under a fictitious name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I'm all in favor of people making comments using an account linked to their real identity as a way to strip trolls of the anonymity they rely upon, but forcing me to join a service I don't want before I can make any comment is the wrong way to go about it.


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