Policing comments in a mostly anonymous system is almost impossible, so Google tried to fix things.

Google+ with YouTube

YouTube is an amazing platform where anyone with a camera and an internet connection can publish videos for the entire world to see for free. From the absolute novice to the professional production studio, YouTube is an invaluable resource for getting video to your users. More than that, though, it's a platform where viewers can communicate thoughts back to the content creators instantly. The comments section of every YouTube video is a place where feedback, suggestions, requests, and sometimes even contests happen. As you are no doubt aware, mid all of this back and forth between content creators and users is a bottomless pit of vile, nasty, and often horrifically vulgar communication. Depending on what video you are watching, terrible YouTube comments can feel like a sport where the goal is to be the most awful human being you can possibly imagine. YouTube offered basic comment policing tools, but since anyone could create an anonymous YouTube account in seconds it often felt like more damage was done by demonstrating a willingness to give these monsters some attention.

Something needed to be done for a long, long time, and back in November 2013 Google rolled out their plan. YouTube would become integrated with your Google+ account, and the comments section of every YouTube video would exist as an extension of Google's social network. What happened next was uniquely violent and strangely unifying, but ultimately lead to the comments system we have across Google+ and YouTube today.

Hank Hill ASCII

Google's attempt to fix YouTube was far from graceful, and it spawned massive negativity with both content creators and users. The content creators, who were now forced to merge their YouTube account with a Google+ account, reacted with dozens of videos expressing frustration at the way this new system was just sort of forced upon them. The new system which, for some users, accidentally caused merging with personal accounts that had nothing to do with the YouTube personas that users saw with each video that was released. Most importantly, the YouTube Inbox had been disabled in favor of this new platform.

Users who enjoyed leaving nasty comments were equally displeased, and responded by leaving ever more disgusting comments in as many videos as possible. Emboldened by the ability to submit comments with unlimited characters and comments in ASCII art through Google+, everything from the entire script to the first Star Wars movie to swastikas to giant middle fingers consumed YouTube. Google did eventually respond to criticism in January of 2014 — complete with YouTubers opting to disable comments entirely to escape the changes — and ironed things out a bit by making it possible for Google+ accounts with something other than a birthname to be used on YouTube (among other things). This change also made it possible for troll accounts to be created in minutes, and largely returned YouTube to its previous state.

Google+ floating comments

YouTube wasn't the only place changes upset users. On Google+, sharing a video on YouTube added you to the comments section of the video and added the conversation you had on Google+ to the conversation on YouTube. This change also added weight to comments, which meant Google+ posts that got a lot of +1s and reshares floated to the top of the comments section on YouTube, even if the commentary wasn't even remotely related to discussions happening on YouTube. A classic example is sharing the music video for Europe's The Final Countdown as an expression of excitement for something like Google I/O tickets going on sale. This post on Google+ means nothing to the people discussing the song or the artist, and even though you made that post two years ago it's at the top of the comments section for people who have you circled on Google+ or have people circled who have you circled on Google+.

While content creators and users seem to have accepted these changes and moved on, it's difficult to say things got any better on YouTube. There are still loads of terrible people participating in this weird sport to see who can be the most awful in comments, and while content creators have the tools necessary to block a user and report their account, it takes minutes to create a new anonymous Google account and get back to being terrible. The system is well over a year old now, and while it is occasionally nice to be able to go to a YouTube video and see comments from your friends closer to the top it's usually not because that comment had the most value in the overall conversation being had on that video. It's hard to say that anything is actually better, especially when you go to videos with a ton of views and comments. At best, what we have now is just a different kind of terrible once the trolls decide to descend upon a video to unleash their torrent of text-based malignant ooze.

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