STOP SCREAMING IN MY HOME
A lot changed when I decided that my social spaces on the internet were the exact same as my social spaces in the real world.
Creators of content on the internet are very commonly creators of community. Often times, this community is the most interesting and the most valuable part of making stuff, and many creators require that relationship to inspire them to make stuff.
But communities usually require support and care and construction. On YouTube, that generally means doing your best to create content that turds won’t care about and trying to ignore them when they show up. And, for the most part, failing.
But YouTube has built out some more robust community management tools now, and I have recently started to really enjoy using them.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is a concerning restriction of speech, or that by eliminating people from our communities we are increasing the echo chamber of the internet, but our channels are our homes on the internet, and we need to figure out how to make them safe.
I want to make clear my values (anti-racism, anti-homophobia, feminist, etc) and I want to create a space for people who share my values. I don’t have to entertain “free speech” if that speech is hateful. If you suck, stay out of my video comments! I don’t need fans who hate women or black people or trans people. — Gaby Dunn (youtube.com/justbetweenus)
First, lets talk about where we’re at.
YouTube defaults to a “Top Comment” system which shows not the most recent comments, but an algorithmically selected mix. It seems that the most important data point in this algorithm is how many replies a comment receives.
This sounds like a good idea. It should be that comments that inspire discussion build community, right? Except, y’know, it’s the internet. Arguments are promoted above anything else. Thumbing something down has no effect (algorithmically, or on the “score” of the comment), leading to a “Top Comments” section that is often full of hostility. This makes it seem as if every community on YouTube is rife with controversy when, in fact, they are not.
But YouTube does have a number of moderation tools available to creators. We can ban words (technically, comments with the words are held for review.) We can block accounts from ever commenting on our videos again. We can also empower members of our community to remove comments (though they can’t ban accounts.)
I absolutely believe it is my responsibility to actively shape my community. I hold myself accountable. Like any relationship, it can become toxic without communication, firm values, and compassion. The community YouTubers build is a reflection of their content and values. Hate breeds hate, love feeds love. — Matthew Fredrick (youtube.com/matthiasiam)
What to do?!
Recently, on the Vlogbrothers channel, we decided enough was enough and we rolled out a whole new strategy for community moderation.
First, we asked our community to reply to comments they like with the ‘+’ symbol. That way, the algorithm would promote comments people liked but weren’t necessarily inspiring discussion. The result was a fascinating and immediate change in the kind of discourse on our videos. While the + comments are a little annoying, and can mess with the flow of conversation, no longer are vitriolic, unproductive arguments constantly sitting in the top comments.
I would love to see YouTube take these concerns into account and, specifically, weight controversial comments less heavily when deciding what comments to promote and instead promote comments that get lots of thumbs up.
Also, I wish YouTube would spend more space mixing in comments that have not been seen yet. The current system buries most comments left after the first few hours under an unbreakable wall of “Top Comments”, making participation in the community feel unproductive or useless.
Second, I’ve become ruthless about banning people. If you scream at someone, if you call people names, if you use a racial slur, if you intentionally try to make another person feel bad, if you spout outrageous, bigoted lies, you’re out.
I have decided that the comments section is our home. If you do anything that would end our friendship if you did it in my actual home after I invited you for dinner, you are banned from ever commenting again. I’m not even sorry.
This may seem harsh but, as previously mentioned, the vast majority of comments are buried by YouTube’s comment algorithm and never seen anyway. And when I think of my channel as a home rather than a website, it all becomes much more clear to me.
Third, we empowered a number of credible community members to clean up the comments. I recruited these moderators through a video on my second channel, basically asking them to apply in the comments. About 20 of the applicants I liked (the ones that seemed to have a good grasp on what we want for the community) were approved as moderators.
None of these people are full time in their duties, they just read comments as they normally would. If they happen to see something that would be considered unforgivably rude IRL, they simply remove the comment.
How Fragile Can I Be?
I am not fragile. I have been doing this for a long time and, as long as you don’t find one of my actual insecurities, you’d be hard pressed to hurt my feelings with a comment. But online communities are fragile. They’re also often the most valuable thing a creator has.
The Internet Creators Guild has begun to build some resources outlining some community management strategies, step-by-step instructions for YouTube’s tools, and a list of words for creators to consider banning from comments.
If you would like to become a member of the ICG, explore this topic in-depth, and support our cause, it’s a mere $60 per year.