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 169.

    97. MemoryisRAM "I posted a Youtube video of a van driver nearly wiping out 3 cars in a fully livered up works van (he was racing another car)"
    Why put it on YouTube in the first place? Isn't that just asking for trouble, given some of the utter cretins on there? Call me old-fashioned, but the first place I'd have sent it would be the local police to get the ratbag charged with dangerous driving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    151. OnlySerious
    Firms are worried that they lose custom and get a damaged reputation by unwarranted negative opinion.

    Personally, I make a point of never buying anything off any firm that advertises on Youtube. Their adverts are as welcome to me as a phone call from an Indian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    I am still able to comment on YouTube under an alias, but they have my email for ID, as does nearly any site that accepts comments. I don't know how those people who have reason to fear being traceable manage it.

  • Comment number 166.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    If you're intent on promoting yourself on sites like youtube, you will meet with some opposition, people need to accept that, or learn to live with it.
    The reality here is Google wants your details on their database so they can earn big bucks by targeting ads to your viewing preferences, searches etc. You can't log in to your YT channel anymore, unless you agree to be join google+. Shameful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    I may be wrong but I would have thought your comment will leave a trail from your IP address back to your ISP provider so that a device (as opposed to user) could be traced. Anonimity is in short supply now a days.

    Suspect this is more for google's user numbers but could be good to weed out the trolls who type stuff that they wouldn't have the guts to say to someones face!

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Normally i agree with the "internet freedom" people but on this issue i think google are right. By all means say whatever the heck you want on videos, but expect to be held accountable if you cross the line. The only people who could possibly have an objection, are the trolls themselves, who value being able to hide behind a false name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    about time to....the trolls on the internet, and in particular on youtube need to be made to act at least like a semi human....

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    "No, but if some misguided person (perhaps you) insists they identify themselves, then you may be partly responsible."

    I was responding to the point the internet trolling isn't real life.

    I do not believe that web page owners should be forced to ban anonymity - merely that it is their right to decide, not yours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Problems about trolls is nothing to do with the Youtube issue. The real issue is Youtube forcing/blackmailing it's users to sign up to Google + accounts in order to make any comments at all weather or not they use their true names or not. I don't want to sign up to Google + therefore I can't make any comments on other or even my own videos. If I can't do that why even use You-tube?

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    But... what will Adam Buxton do for material if they stop all the maniacs from hurling insults at one another?

    I find the "Great job!" type comments (that you get underneath every terrible cover version of whatever song you can name) even more nauseating.

    But if the rules are get a Google+ account, trolls will just have to decide if they think it's still worth doing under their own name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    It's their website, they're not violating any laws. If you don't like it just express your opinion on the piece elsewhere, or on a blog.

    People don't have the right to have an anonymous opinion heard anywhere at any time. Especially not in a forum that is owned by someone else, their house: their rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    When I first signed up for HYS, I wanted to stand by my opinions, whether positive or negative. That's why my name is on them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    The ultimate society would be all-inclusive & most real-world problems seem caused by people feeling excluded to one extent or another. To make ‘society’ bigger we need to challenge & push the perceived boundaries. One of the great things about online anonymity is it frees people to voice what is currently considered ‘socially unacceptable’ provoking confront their prejudices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    "Okay, the suicide is the dead teenager's fault for allowing themselves to be identified on the internet."

    No, but if some misguided person (perhaps you) insists they identify themselves, then you may be partly responsible

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I hate the new way of commenting on YT.

    As for personnel accounts and profiles.Remember the MP who said everyone should use a fake name on the internet.(I DO).And who tells the whole truth on a profile.

    Is a pedo going to express his love for kids in his profile.

    But i guess if it keeps people from having there feeling hurt.And makes it safe for me to go on line.LOLOLOLOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    It appears the BBC don't understand the comment problem at all. It doesn't strip the trolls of anonymity - it BOLSTERS is, because all you need to sign up for a G+ account is a new email address, and you can even use THE SAME NAME as the old G+ account - making it effectively *impossible* to ban trolls from commenting. Also: post nasty comment, 50 people reply condemning = higher rating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Oh dear, people seriously believe that they are anonymous on the web.

    How easily people are led.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Many comments are malodorous.
    Firms are worried that they lose custom and get a damaged reputation by unwarranted negative opinion.
    Unfortunately some firms have added exclusions and terms/conditions to their sites so that any negative comments, even if justified, can be used to sue the commentator.
    Google wants to track everyone and everything as though all data belongs to them.

    Knowlege = POWER

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    And if people only wanted to hear other people say nice things about them; they should just talk to their parents and friends maybe. An anonymous comment is just a comment and that is it. Again, of course I am against any online bullying or other illegal activities spreading online.


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