(Illustration courtesy of Jason Solo)
As YouTube celebrates its eighth birthday with a plethora of live comedy acts, it’s worth considering the oddity that is the third most-visited website on the planet. YouTube is an amazing hub of creativity, inspiration and passion, and it gives practically everyone the opportunity to become a global sensation -- sometimes for as little as setting their hair on fire! And yet... scroll down the page when you view a video on YouTube and feast your eyes on the comments section. There, just a few inches down from the wonderful awesomeness, is a hellish plague of racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry, and downright nastiness. In fact, if you ever hear anyone say, “You know, I don’t think racism is that big a deal anymore,” instead of slapping the back of their head, simply direct them to any unmoderated comments section of a video featuring a black guy. There, you will likely see the n-word, and it will be used in a horribly, horribly racist statement.

Such is the existence of YouTube, the Harvey Dent of the Internet. If the top half of the screen of a YouTube video -- the part with the actual video -- represents the upstanding purity of Gotham’s district attorney, the bottom half of the screen is Two-Face: angry, undignified, repulsive. In fact, it’s pretty amazing that in the politically correct age we live in, parents aren’t setting themselves on fire and storming Washington in an attempt to censor the site. It’s almost as if the good parts of YouTube are so good that the country as a whole has collectively decided to just ignore the comments sections of videos. We know that underneath a Sesame Street video is a racist criticizing Obama and a troll comparing Elmo to Osama bin Laden, but it’s weirdly acceptable because damn it, that same site gave us a sneezing baby and the Tron Guy. So it can’t be that bad... right?

Well, purely by accident I happened to wander into the comments section of a YouTube video recently. It was a time-lapse tracking of the recent tornado that ravaged Oklahoma, leaving dozens dead and many more homeless. It’s a horrifying, jaw-dropping video, and a less cynical person might have expected the comments to be respectful, mournful, or maybe even reassuring.

But no...

These were the comments that bombarded me the moment I scrolled down. The first was from a Christian dude who wrote, “There is nothing that pisses me off more than false Christians who run their vile mouth.I suggest you read John 16:33,John 3:17,Ephesians 4:32 and Matthew 9:36,” in response to someone who posted this heartfelt message: “In truth, Jeeeezus has PUNISHED you trailer park SODOMITES for... your fornication, your masturbation your gesticulation your equivocation your emasculation your ejaculation your degradation your mastication your Clay-mation your Hatian your station your Nation your vacation your vocation your avocation your prevarication your ablation your depradation your evaporation your desiccation The TWISTER OF LORD has SMOTE you, one and all-- and in the name of all that is HOLY, your blood must flow!”

Underneath that holy battle was a pair of comments by a “Mahad Hassan,” who wrote: “this is beutiful only in america its a sign but you just don't give damn l wish to see hundreds more may  the earth split open in washington that would be mesmerising,” proving that there are trolls even for subjects as specific as people dying in tornadoes.

Well, maybe Hassan was just an unnatural prick, and I shouldn’t read into his comments too much. Surely, not everyone on YouTube talks like they’re a villain out of a Superfriends episode. At least, that’s what I thought...

"Aaron Silkwood," directly before Hassan: “People think this is sad? Death happens, welcome to life. I find it BADASS! Look at what earth can do, so sick.”

So far in my emergence into the scary world of YouTube commenters, I had actually come upon more people who were in favor of the life-destroying tornado. My mind was blown. Suddenly, I was no longer reading the section to see if anyone was being unnaturally negative; now I had to know if anyone -- anyone at all -- was actually being positive and using the comments section the right way. I was curious just how many more comments I would have to sift through before I’d come upon one that was completely appropriate, sensitive, and non-confrontational.

The next comment, from "dawnhar1," was in Arabic. I can only assume it was negative since the Bing Translator picked up the word “evil” in the middle of it. Then came a comment from “Shelly StandingGround,” who screeched: “The Government doesn't want you to see this.  The government keeps blocking our site!  Watch now !  OMG!!! DID ANY-ONE SEE THE U TUBE VIDEO JUST POSTED...  "JUVENILE PROSTITUTION WAS MADE LEGAL IN ALL 50 STATES!!"”

(You know you’re dealing with a crackpot when in the course of their completely unbelievable conspiratorial comment, they can’t even be bothered to actually spell out “YouTube.”)

After that was a series of barely legible paragraphs from two dudes arguing over which politicians were to blame for the country’s political failings. This semi-debate wouldn’t have been that interesting, except that one of the combatants in this battle of the minds was “Lovegainers5,” a user whose channel is dedicated to women who intentionally gain weight. One of Lovegainers5’s favorite videos, featured proudly on his YouTube feed, was a video titled, “ DOES EVERYBODIES MOTHER FART LIKE THIS?!,” to which Mr. Gainers had himself commented: “That sounded like the most nastiest fart a woman could ever do. Ewwwwwww! So loud and bassy! Talk about having bad gas grow and develop inside of you like a developing F5 tornado.”

Essentially, that’s the YouTube comments section in a nutshell: grown men babbling about politics in between studiously analyzing the farts of old women.

Removing the political discussions from my radar, I was still in search of that rare endangered species: the appropriate comment. But I kept coming up with fool’s gold.

Sébastien Côrriveau:
 “Why is there a photoshopped helicopter in the end?”
"Fuck USA! FUCK!!!"
Stephen o'neill:

And so on.

It wasn’t until more than 20 comments in that I at last reached the moderate breath of fresh air that was “tenacious645,” who wrote: “Yeah seriously my heart goes out to those affected by the storms there. Prosper Moore ♥”

Of course, the section quickly resumed its bizarre argument that the deaths were somehow acceptable, that the tornado was somehow a good thing, and that it was all either God’s fault or it wasn’t because he may or may not exist. But hey: when it takes more than 20 comments to find a single reasonable comment, you can only be so picky.

The criticism of YouTube can only go so far, I think, since there probably is a limit to how well a site that large can handle the number of comments that appear on any of its millions of videos during the course of the day. Still, as long as YouTube is housing some of the brightest and most talented minds in the world, it’d be nice to see them adopt a system that detracts the looniest people in the world from hijacking comments sections into chaos. I understand that no system will ever be able to weed out all the racist, homophobic jerkwads, but still... YouTube can surely do better than this.


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