The War On Bad Commenters

Email a Friend

It's strange what you can get used to. Since its inception, we've all mostly agreed that it's normal for YouTube's comments section to be a maw of hateful idiocy. 

Imagine if, in the 60's, CBS had a comments crawl where racial slurs and non-sequiturs scrolled beneath whatever program you were watching. An alternate reality where, when the Beatles were playing on Ed Sullivan, underneath we got to learn that Eric201 from Cincinnati thinks that they all look like idiots or that World War 2 was an inside job. 

Anyway. This week, YouTube announced they'll roll out a system meant to clean up their comments system. Commenters will still have anonymity, but a system of reputation and moderation will be exist to help mute the worst dreck. Assuming it works, or even half-works, we can look forward to a future where we're able to browse the latest Louis CK late night clips without sorting through a ton of hateful garbage on the way. 

Meanwhile, over at PopSci, the editors have decided to do away with comments entirely. They're surely not the first publication to do it, but what I found charming was their rationale, which is, of course, firmly grounded in science. 

...Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story, recent research suggests. In one study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, 1,183 Americans read a fake blog post on nanotechnology and revealed in survey questions how they felt about the subject (are they wary of the benefits or supportive?). Then, through a randomly assigned condition, they read either epithet- and insult-laden comments ("If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you're an idiot" ) or civil comments. The results, as Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele wrote in a New York Times op-ed: "Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant's interpretation of the news story itself."