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 49.

    I wouldn't mind if it actually DID act on the information it gathers. I use youtube to look at metal and rock videos. That's it. And yet on the What to Watch I am constantly offered drivel for 12 year olds, like beiber or cyrus videos, all of which I'd rather gouge out my eyeballs and eardrums than have to be subjected to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    @26. tc
    tc - thats your name is it?
    The truth is that many many people don't want to have their name and details spread to the corners of the world. We don't want the NSA knocking our doors down, nor people from all over the world sending us emails.
    Even if you have a name on a site like this you can't prove who it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I know people who`ve had to erase their online details after making innocent comments under their own names and people have threatened to go round and beat them up.
    Without anonymity we go from abusive comments to people being to afraid to say anything at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Yet ANOTHER blow for freedom.

    The Tory government are censoring our internet and INCREASING surveillance.




  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    THis is against freedom of speech!!!!!!!!!!

    I have often converted many new christians through the you tube comments pages. I guess I will have to move on to other video streaming sites now

    Praise Christ

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.


    #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.


    Just out of equal curiosity, why is a teacher posting on HYS in school time?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I did some videos and got nasty comments that were totally unnecessary (obscene language that I found uncomfortable with etc), all in the name of the "cloud of anonymity" so I marked my videos "read only". I got abusive emails for " blocking " there comment's as they said "freedom of speech hey"? Etc. Its my freedom too, to read what I want. Freedom to say not as you want, but as you" ought"

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    To be fair to YouTube, if you do ever read the comments on videos its normally even more depressing than HYS comments. They tend to be full of vitriol & stupid people trying to pretend their clever whilst simultansously being completely wrong. Just because you can comment on somthing, you don't have to. The annonimity of the internet should not be justification to be a d***

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Hey Google, Google+ didn't work out for you. Pretty much everything else you've done has. Why not just drop this one, rather than embarking on a path that's only going to cause violent backlash from the users of the rest of your products?

  • Comment number 39.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Unfortunately many people just can't deal with anonymity and it brings out the worst in their nature. While I don't want to see the whole web go this way in general the quality of discourse is increased when anonymity is removed. Those who don't like it can go elsewhere or start their own community (seriously - it's easy these days).

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I do find that the comment section on you tube has become useless, due to the constant trolling, swearing and bad grammar.

    Even fan based content is being wrecked by childish behaviour on every corner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Given it's so easy to offend anyone and everyone these days in this ridiculous PC world - even if it wasnt' intended - anonymity is a boon to those of us who just want to share a humourous video with a select few - without it affecting our reputation, employment prospects etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I'm not really too fussed about the whole "anonymity" thing or the forced Google+ account as already had one anyway (although I never used it).
    The main problems are the SHEER stupid things that they've introduced now... you can post links - to viruses, porn, malware; unlimited characters - I saw one person post the WHOLE of Macbeth! And no Top Comments anymore! That was always satisfying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Probably want more G+ users.

    The way do deal with trolls is ignore them. let them live in obscurity.

    BBC football comments - blatant trolls spouting rubbish. Happens every day as people insist on playing along: down voting or (god forbid) responding!

    Their aim is to annoy you... By responding, you show them they're succeeding.

    On the other hand, some of the funniest commenters are trolls :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Personally, I have always found the more abrasive the response the more it validates the proposition. Usually it is quite obvious if something has been posted for the simple purpose of mischief making or offence. If a site wishes to put up filters, monitor and have the right to immediately delete anything gratuitously offensive that's fine but anonymity should still be the right of everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    A website I contribute to has simple rules - Don't feed the trolls. Delete spam on sight.

    Posts from trolls and spammers are ignored, hidden, deleted; and it is made less of a flood by requiring anonymous posters to enter a CAPTCHA. In the worst cases, the offender's IP address can be blocked for times ranging from a few hours to several months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I am a frequent user of youtube, but I seldom post a comment. I reserve that for exceptionally good videos.
    I don't like to be forced to join google+ to be able to comment because I expect that will give google one more opportunity to find out about my tastes and preferences and bombard me with publicity.
    What we feared about communist is happening now. It's like the movie "The Life of Others"

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I prefer to be anonymous because I am a husband and father, and whilst I don't have any particularly strong views that are likely to offend, it only takes one nutter to take badly to you...

    I do think that a zero tolerance policy on trolls should be put into place. One troll comment and your IP gets blocked. Not foolproof, but should stop most of the sad teenagers.


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