What we can learn from YouTube commenters
At this point in society, the malice of online commenters is little more than a joke, especially when it comes to video sharing giant YouTube. Ever since the company was founded in 2005, the website has had one of the Internet's more accessible commenting threads and encouraged its users to engage, leading to the inevitable emergence of the omnipotent "troll."
For better or for worse, hateful commenters are protected by the American right to freedom of speech, though many have been damaged by things said in past years. The phenomenon has inspired a number of scientific study into these people as well as how these comments ultimately can affect a viewer's perception of a video or piece as a whole. Fortunately, users retain the ability to prevent others from commenting if needed, but the question persists – are these commenters abusing or empowered by their own freedom of speech?
Deconstructing the Internet "troll"
The TED company, known for its major conventions featuring speakers from a variety of disciplines, posts its videos both on the YouTube website and on their own personal address. Recently, marketers with the business decided to compare the different types of comments made on the same video on the different platforms, with interesting results. The study sought to answer the following questions, according to pop culture blog The Mary Sue's contributor Carolyn Cox:
- "Is there a significant difference in the type of comments according to platform?
- Are significant differences in commenting observed according to presenter characteristics?"
The results were incredibly revealing, as Cox detailed in her report.
"The researchers determined that only 57 percent of comments on Youtube TED Talks were relevant to the video (as opposed to 72 percent relevancy on Ted.com) and that 5.7 percent of the comments on Youtube were personal insults, as opposed to just 1 percent on the Ted website," the source stated.
In addition, sexism was prevalent in the study – YouTube commenters were far more likely to speak out on a woman's appearance than a man. Because YouTube was an established haven for Internet trolls, they were more likely to congregate and more irrelevant, critical content on that platform. While this is within their rights, does it affect the way others may experience a speech as opposed to watching the same media on the TED site among less hateful speech?
The effect of negative comments on objective viewers
Though most would dismiss these types of comments as irrelevant to the viewing experience, additional studies prove that reading comments and viewing a video with positive or negative speech as a filter does change the overall perception.
The New Yorker journalist Maria Konnikova released an analysis of the value of anonymity on the Internet and its affect on the public, arguing that major media outlets should be willing to allow their readers to comment in the interest of both free speech and engagement. In the end, according to a series of interviews and case studies by Konnikova, the Web community tends to self-regulate negative commenters.
"On Gawker, in the process of voting a comment up or down, users can set the tone of the comments, creating a surprisingly civil result," the source expands. "The readership, in other words, spots the dog at the other of the end of the keyboard, and puts him down."
Objectively, a media outlet has a lot to gain by developing the tough skin required to weather the anonymous hatred of trolls because it has the ability to spark conversation and, at the end of the day, clicks. It's difficult to say, in a sea of hurt feelings, whether the negative Internet commenter is an asset to society, but it is one of the most controversial uses of American free speech today.