The Wild West days of the Internet are fast disappearing. The corporate and government powers that be are committed to the eradication of anonymity, and are taking steps to rein in one the greatest bastions of freedom of expression remaining today.
A growing number of corporate websites are placing limits on online commentary. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), the Huffington Post and other news and conversation sites are taking a variety of steps to try and restore civil discourse in their online message boards and chat rooms. A few websites, such as Popular Science, have gone so far as to ban comments.
However, controlling user input is a delicate balancing act for these companies. User comments add a social dimension to articles, blogs, videos and other content, which keeps readers interested and more likely to stay and continue interacting after reading the story or watching the video.
Outrageous online comments
Over the top, inappropriate or even violent or threatening online comments are the real problem. Internet anonymity obviously offers a number of positives. Anonymity allows people to speak freely and tell the truth without fear of consequences. Internet anonymity means whistle-blowers and protesters have a safe venue to make their complaints. However, anonymity also permits people to tell lies and hurt others without repercussions. It is anonymity that enables Internet trolls and bullies to tell lies and threaten and abuse others.
YouTube's new policies revokes internet anonymity
YouTube has had a significant problem with inappropriate comments of all kinds for a long time. YouTube, owned by Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), recently began requiring users of the site to log into Google Plus before they could post a comment. Facing a firestorm of criticism over the new policy, the company replied that the goal is to raise the level of discourse in the YouTube video-related conversations.
A Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial family that was recently posted on YouTube and received dozens of ugly, racist responses is an example of the problem. The situation got so bad that General Mills, Inc. (NYSE:GIS) removed all comments and disabled the comment function.
"Starting this week, when you're watching a video on YouTube, you'll see comments sorted by people you care about first," according to YouTube product manager Nundu Janakiram and principal engineer Yonatan Zunger. "If you post videos on your channel, you also have more tools to moderate welcome and unwelcome conversations. This way, YouTube comments will become conversations that matter to you."