No Trolls Allowed: Intelligent Regulation of YouTube Comments by PBS Idea Channel

I love the PBS Idea Channel. Not only for their interesting, balanced, and thought-provoking videos, but for their handling of user comments.

The comments section of any web site has a universal reputation for being a cesspool of the worst humanity has to offer. People will say things in a video or article comment that would start a riot if they said them to someone’s face. The anonymity afforded by the internet turns people into animals. Many web sites and YouTube channels disable comments completely for want of a way to stem the tide of hateful garbage.

But the comments on PBS Idea Channel videos are, by and large, intelligent and articulate. There’s a striking absence of slurs and trolling. This is because the makers of these videos have found the perfect way to motivate people to think carefully about what they write: they reward the most interesting and intelligent comments by discussing them in the next video.

This is a relatively small step, but the impact is huge. Offering the chance for even a tiny slice of internet fame in exchange for writing well-thought-out comments provides a huge motivation to write well. Trolls will find themselves unwelcome here: they will be ignored by the majority, who are competing for the attention of the host and his crew. The most interesting comments are voted up, while the odd bit of hate speech simply gets buried under all the intelligent conversation.

The success of this method is astounding, and it makes me wonder why more series and channels don’t do this. I suppose it might relate to time and resources: they clearly spend a huge amount of time and energy reading all the comments, choosing the best ones, and then composing and recording video responses to them. But I have yet to find a better way to regulate comments, and I think that time and energy is well-invested and worthwhile.

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