YouTube
Show Hide image

Why are YouTube comments the worst on the internet?

A perfect storm of factors ensures that YouTube is home to the most toxic comment section on the web.

It is often said that Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed, but you wouldn’t know that from the YouTube comments. “Thanks mozart for adding more sexiness to my sexy sex life with this music... me and my girlfriend enjoy having sex with this music... HAIL TO MOZART!!!,” wrote Mr or Mrs impuredeath2 on an upload of the song last month.

As far as YouTube comments go, this is a good one. There is no racism, homophobia, or antisemitism, there are no conspiracy theories, it is a full sentence, and it doesn’t contain the words “thumbs up if u agree”. For years, YouTube has notoriously been the home of the worst comment section on the internet, and if you Google “Why are YouTube comments…”, the search engine will helpfully complete your sentence with the options “so bad”, “so racist”, and “so toxic”. We are all aware that YouTube comments are terrible, but much like the fact that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, although we know it’s true, we don’t really know why.

There are, in fact, many reasons. The first (“First!!!!”) is that all internet comment sections are terrible, but Facebook, Reddit, and many news sites filter their comments so that the first comments you see are the ones that have received the most positive votes. In these systems, toxic comments are often hidden away after they are voted down too many times. On YouTube, the “Top” comments are the ones with the most replies, and although you can “Thumbs down” a comment, pressing this button doesn’t affect its overall number of “Thumbs up” nor move it any further down the page (try it yourself). The comments you see first are therefore often the most controversial.

But it’s not just the “Top” comments on YouTube that are awful, and this is mostly to do with how immediate and popular the comment section is. Unless you get a lot of replies or thumbs up, your comment will disappear underneath a multitude of others soon after it’s written. YouTube has no “View all comments” option that people can CTRL+F through to find your name and words, so if anyone wanted to find out what you’d written, they’d have to arduously click “Show more” hundreds of times.

This means that despite the fact YouTube’s comment section isn’t anonymous – the site forces people to sign up via their Google account – people don’t really have to be scared of what they say. Unlike on Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter, a user’s profile doesn’t hold a collection of their comments or a list of things they’ve commented on. It is for this reason that you never see headlines about people being fired for their comments under Mozart’s Requiem, but often do for their Facebook statuses or Tweets. This set-up only compounds the fact that, contrary to popular belief, non-anonymous individuals are actually more aggressive than anonymous individuals online.

Just like there are few consequences for awful comments, there is also little reward for good ones. On other social media platforms, people crave Likes and shares, but on YouTube these are – once again – not visibly collected on your profile. People are also less inclined to go to YouTube for an intelligent debate (thumbs up if you’re reading this in 2016!!!), which makes the problem cyclical.

Top this all off with the fact there are no comment moderators and pretty much everyone goes on YouTube (including lots of kids), and you have a perfect storm of factors. Although some popular YouTubers have chosen to ban certain words from their comments so they’re automatically filtered out, most people who upload to the site do so casually, without considering this option.

Now, that's settled, we’d best get down to business. ~★☆★ If you share this article on the next seven YouTube videos you watch, your true love will kiss you on Friday at midnight. ★☆★~

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Artie Limmer/Texas Tech University
Show Hide image

Meet the evangelical Christian persuading believers that climate change is real

Katharine Hayhoe's Canadian missionary parents told her science and God were compatible. Then she moved to Texas. 

During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, alarm rose with each mention of climate change. Denial, dismissal and repeated chants of “hoax” left no doubt as to his position.

Now President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has been seen as a seminal moment in the fight against climate change - one which many fear could lose the battle ahead of humanity.

But one scientist has been fighting a war of her own on the ground, against those who typically doubt the facts about global warming more than most - the evangelical Christian population of America.

And to make matters even more unusual, Katharine Hayhoe herself is an evangelical Christian who lives in the indisputably "bible belt" of Lubbock, Texas.

The atmospheric scientist has been named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people and one of Politico’s 50 thinkers transforming American politics. Now she is using her considerable heft to speak to those who are hardest to convince that there is a manmade problem that threatens the Earth’s future.

I meet her at the science and music festival Starmus in Trondheim, Norway, where she is to address the attendees on Thursday in a talk entitled "Climate Change: Facts and Fictions".

Hayhoe was born in Canada, to missionary parents. Her father, a former science educator, showed her that there was no conflict between the ideas of God and science. However, it was something of a surprise to her when she discovered her pastor husband, whom she married in 2000, did not feel the same about climate change. It took her two years to convince him.

What started as a conversation became an organised project when she moved to America's South in the mid 2000s. 

“Moving to Lubbock was a culture shock," she tells me. "When I moved there I wasn’t doing much outreach, but it moved me in that direction.

“Lubbock is very conservative. It’s small and isolated.

“I would say the majority of people in Lubbock are either dismissive or doubtful about climate change. I was surrounded by people - neighbours, parents of friends, people at church, colleagues down the hall in the university - who weren’t convinced.”

So Hayhoe, who works as an associate professor and director of the Climate Science Centre at Texas Tech University, set to work. She began to collect the responses she was seeing to the climate change discussion and prepare her counter-argument.

“When I talk to people who are doubtful, I try to connect with the values they already have," she says. “The greatest myth is the myth of complacency - that ‘it doesn’t really matter to me’.

"But I would say that the second most insidious myth is that you only care about this issue if you’re a certain type of person. If you’re a green person, or a liberal person, or a granola person."

The stereotypes mean that people outside that demographic feel "I can't be that kind of person because that's not who I am", as she puts it.

Hayhoe convinced her husband using data, but rather than repeating a formula, she tries to find out what will resonate with different people: "For many groups, faith is a core value that people share.”

Whether she’s speaking to city planners, water company managers, school kids or Bible believers, Hayhoe says her hook is not the facts, but the feelings.

“I recently talked to arborists," she says. "For them, trees and plants are important, so I connect with them on that, and say ‘because we care about trees, or because we care about water or what the Bible says then let me share with you from the heart why I can about these issues because it affects something that you already care about’.

“My angle is to show people that they don’t need to be a different person at all - exactly who they already are is the kind of person who can care about climate change.”

Hayhoe came to public attention in the United States after appearing in a Showtime series on climate change. She has appeared on panels with Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, and launched a web series. As well as plaudits, this level of fame has also earned her daily threats and online abuse. 

“My critics think they’re coming from a position of religion, but they aren’t," she says. "They’re actually coming from a very specific political ideology which believes that the government should not have control over people’s lives in any way shape or form - very libertarian, free market, free economy, Tea Party."

She believes that in the United States, faith and politics has been conflated to the point "people can no longer tell the difference". 

“Now it’s conservatism that informs religion," she elaborates. "If the two are in conflict - like the Bible says God has given us responsibility over everything on this earth - then people say ‘oh, we can’t affect something as big as this Earth, God will take care of it anyway’."

Around half of those who attack her on social media identify themselves as Christians, she notes, but almost all call themselves conservatives. 

As a scientist, she’s been preparing data herself - naturally - on her online attackers, with depressingly familiar results.

“As soon as you stick your head out of the trench, you get it. There have been papers published showing that white men disproportionately form up that small group of dismissives. They’re almost all men. When I track my social media comments, I would say that 99.5 per cent of them are white men.

“Out of 1,000 negative comments, I have maybe five from women.”

After the climate change argument moved up a gear - following the Paris withdrawal - Hayhoe admits that she and her fellow scientists are concerned, although she pays tribute to the businesses, cities and states from the US that have committed to following the Paris agreement themselves.

On the subject of the chief white male denier, Trump himself, Hayhoe says she has a discussion point which she feels may convince him to think carefully about his role in the fight against global warming’s impact on humanity.

“I would attempt to connect with the values that he has and show him how acting on this would be in his best interests," she says.

“One guess would be ‘what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be known as, the man who destroyed the world, or the man who saved it?’”

Katharine Hayhoe is speaking at Starmus on Thursday June 22. For more details, visit Starmus.

Kirstie McCrum is a freelance journalist. Follow her @kirstiemccrum.

0800 7318496