Blog Post

Users outraged over Youtube’s switch to Google+ “real names” policy

This post has been updated to greater emphasize resistance of new comments by popular Youtube channels.

Well, that didn’t take long. Less than a month after announcing Youtube’s “tighter integration” with Google+, users of the popular video upload service are lashing out at Google for taking away a tenuous and important part of the internet at large: anonymity.

On Reddit, where anonymity continues to thrive, a post that calls for mass complaints to Google’s product page for forcing Youtube users to connect with Google+ — eliminating usernames of the past and enforcing a “real-name policy” — has raced to the front page of the website with more than 22,000 upvotes. The result has been a steady stream of complaints on the product forum, expressing outrage at Google for incorporating its social network.

“Isn’t this what Marketing departments are supposed to prevent? Aren’t they supposed to do, you know, market research *ahead* of time so a public lynching like this can be avoided?” wrote user Whoevers on the product forum board. “All it would take is a focus group, or a survey, or a beta test sampling, BEFORE having committed to this course of action.”

In addition to directly complaining to Google, users are also getting on board with a petition that calls for the company to roll back the Youtube commenting system to its former, anonymous state. As of this writing, more than 88,000 people have signed on in support of the effort, and it continues to grow quickly.

But it’s not just the average masses getting upset. Even Jawed Karim, the Youtube co-founder who famously posted the famous first video “Me at the Zoo”, broke an eight-year silence to complain about the changes, according to The Guardian.

The policy itself has clear intentions: take away anonymity, and there’s a possibility that Youtube’s comments will have better moderation. The website is already colloquially known for having some of the worst trolls and comments on the internet at large, which leaves videos like this Cheerios ad depicting an interracial family to ban comments altogether due to the level of racist comments it received when it was uploaded. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and threats of rape and murder are commonplace on Youtube and on anonymous websites in general, so a real-name policy has the superficial benefit of keeping the peace while also driving traffic to Google+.

However, the system is clearly suffering from the same age-old challenges that plague companies interested in shining a light on the comments system. The internet, for better or worse, has been built on a platform of anonymity. As my colleague Mathew Ingram has indicated over many posts throughout the years, real names are tied to negative consequences — it deters people from interacting with others online and also doesn’t do as much to curb trolling as conventional thought would have many believe.

It will be interesting to see whether Google continues its course of action and keeps the real-name policy for good — and how much that decision will impact the use of Youtube overall. The comments system, especially for Youtube, is a tenuous but necessary tool — perhaps this low-key change has in fact irrevocably damaged the ecosystem Youtube has worked so hard to create.

Update: Unsurprisingly, Karim isn’t the only well-known Youtube figure speaking out about the change. Subreddit /r/youtube is keeping track of the many channel users who have also publicly denounced the new policy, including super-popular Youtube gamer PewDiePie. Thanks for the link, Adam Hoek.

76 Responses to “Users outraged over Youtube’s switch to Google+ “real names” policy”

  1. The interesting thing is that google+ refuses to activate my profile on the grounds that “it doesn’t look like a real name to the system” – I’ve already appealed three times sending them clear evidence that that’s the name I go by in real life, but they keep refusing. That, therefore, prevents me from posting on youtube…
    The internet police is here, guys.

  2. Dave Dick

    No biggie. I have not commented on Youtube since the day of implementing mandatory Google+ signup, because I absolutely refuse to sign up for Google+. Since I have zero videos on my channel and don’t intend to upload any videos, I can live with losing the ability to comment.

    In fact, I wouldn’t have signed up for a Youtube account had it not been for age verification for certain videos which require me to sign in.

    Google wants to add me to its Google+ user base number? Sorry, I will not play your game.

    But frankly, everyone should have seen this coming. Remember the massive Youtube channel revamp with all that ugly gray-black menu bars on the left? The addition of avatar pic placeholders next to your username? The constant random popup nags about using your real name? On hindsight, not much of a surprise, was it?

    The greatest mockery is that the comment section had deteriorated, not improved, after this new revamp. No longer could you see who was replying whom. The Youtube comment section is now infested with one-liner (username) has shared this via Google+.

    When tech companies get too big for their own good, they inevitably drop the ball and jump the shark. Complacency overrides innovation, arrogance overrides humility, style overrides substance, shareholders’ interests override customers’ interests. It already happened with various game companies and Microsoft.

  3. Holy cow, I can’t believe this doesn’t even mention how bungled the integration for Youtube / Google+ was. There are thousands or more users who have lost hundreds of subscriptions, subscribers, favorites, comment tracking and posting. So, all these problems are on the original youtube user name acct that customers have been using for years. Oh yeah, an mysteriously, if you just give up and log into Youtube with your google+ acct. everything is right where it is supposed to be.
    Hm. Imagine that.

    This all seems to have started around Sept 23 2013.
    Didn’t effect me until Oct 31. Apparently I’d been dodging
    google’s incessant offers to log in with google+ that long.!topic/youtube/Dhs7BgmAvq8%5B101-125-false%5D

  4. whats everyone butt hurt about? I mean, im pissed google+ is taking over in a corp aspect, i mean its not doing youtube any better, theyre just selling out. But if you just look at the title it basically says its just taking away peoples stupid nicknames, which personally isnt that big of deal?
    I think people should stop over reacting cause things just arnt they way they want it. I mean, what bad could come of peoples name. You can still remain under a fake name. Which is weird anyway, we’re not ten, we dont need kool aliases lol. Why do you need to be hidden?
    If i was a youtuber or whatever theyre called, id wanna know whos calling me a fucking faggot/idiot/whatever colourful vocabulary these people can come up with.

  5. bottom line – it’s about controlling one of the popular products they own (youtube) to try to promote another of their products which is a loser (Google+).

    If consumers had a backbone, they’d fail with this marketing approach. However, I tent to think the consumers will cave.

  6. Is anyone really stupid enough to believe the nonsense that this has anything to do with “cleaning up the comments”? You could just set up a fake Google+ account, so that is obvious bs. This has to do with Google betting the farm on Google+ as the next big thing in social networking. Well, I have news for Google: it’s not going to happen. Google+ has never been a “thing” and never will become a “thing.” For YouTube content creators, the system is a mess as you have to go through half a dozen steps to see your comments when it used to be transparent. Actually, all of Google’s recent changes to YouTube have been like that as each converts what used to be so transparent and simple into something esoteric and complex. At this point, I never go to YouTube to find videos but just get links of interest off Twitter.

  7. Dr Kenneth Noisewater

    This takes back control of political thought on youtube. Most conservatives won’t switch over, and G+ admittedly chooses which comments to highlight which to censor.

  8. Kevin Moorman

    Bah I hate anonymous comments on youtube. If I post a video, all kinds of anonymous trolls put the most shockingly abusive hatred all over it. Then I have to come back and tediously delete and ban each person one by one.
    At least this way if a person has a beef with my video, if they dare, they could stand up like a man and say so using their actual name.

  9. Getting rid of vocal outrage is just one side of the game. The larger is to strengthen the Google+ value with all it’s franchises. That’s also the reason why you have to submit ratings on previously known Google Local for businesses now with a real name.

    Those “real” ratings and reviews from real people are worth more then anonymous reviews and ratings. And as Google links this all together with the Google+ account the information they get about the user base is huge and very interesting for their business customers. And in this case interesting means more expensive ads.

  10. I don’t like the change but I’m not sure what you all mean by “real name policy”. Since youtube made me sign up for google+ I created a fake account with entirely false information.

    Its annoying, but if google wants to make me link a fake google+ account to a fake gmail account and a fake youtube account, I’ll do it. The data they get from spying on me is completely useless.

  11. savagemike

    Yeah – it doesn’t require a real name be used, at all. It doesn’t require any change from current Youtube names being used.
    Something you might have wanted to mention in an article on the subject where you reference the backlash by people against losing anonymity.

  12. Double edged sword. This might curb your everyday professional who has a social network circle of friends and co-workers they don’t want to see their post. But this change also put a lot of people’s privacy on blast. I almost started using it as a Facebook alternative. While I was only posting up music videos left on public because I figured few people would stumble onto my profile. Anyone who uses their real name, gps, cell phone ect, family photos, conversations with grandma on a personal profile could easily gain a troll/stalker from youtube comments. I’m so glad I never use my real name online unless it’s for business.

    • You make a good point, my real name is used and I certainly have had a death threat and horrible troll words written, but I check my channel often and delete quickly. So anonymity protects the producer and the viewer … even though I didn’t choose the route of anonymity. Anonymity as a viewer is good, as an example, for children to be able to freely watch safely, under a veil, and also ask questions they may feel embarrassed to ask otherwise. I have a cooking show btw.

  13. it’s not only about the anonymity, but they are now allowing links in the comments (phishing for malware attacks) and unlimited characters, enabling trolls to copy/paste 3 pages of “suck my d*ck suck my d*ck suck my d*ck” to expand when expanded. the collapse button is only on the bottom of this “comment”, not at the top, so you have to scroll all the way down to hide it.
    they have also already started to disguise phishing links into a halfbaked comment as a “click to expand” link (which it is not).

    then there’s the sorting by popularity instead of by time.
    and because the comments are now threaded, if somebody posts something unacceptable, somebody else comments on that to tell him off, and other user then +1 or like the latter comment, by default the original horrible post gets pushed to the top of the comments, not the one that is telling him off. (which you won’t see unless you expand, making it easy for trolls and phishers to do their thing).

  14. Westerveld

    What amazes me is that trolling as an argument is taken seriously. It is all about the data. Every problem is solved with us giving up a piece of our privacy, every little sh…y problem. In the end we get the blame anyway because we put all our data online so what are we moaning about. It’s not a conspiracy or something, but it all has the same goal, money/power. The more specific the data the more value it has and the easier it gets to have you hand over more information.

  15. I’ve been saying it for a few years now. The age of anonimity is over. Get used to having your name, info and location (realtime and past) out in the open for everyone to see. Focus morre on cleaning all the skeletons out of your closet, rather than trying to hide.
    Social media has been doing this for years. They create a new feature (ex. FB’s map/location when they rolled out timeline), then people get pissed so they make it optional and then a few months/years later they take away the option to opt out. Such is life in the age of the internet.

  16. Daniel Barkalow

    Actually, a Google+ “page” can comment on YouTube, and such pages are exactly as anonymous as YouTube channels were. Your personal identity is hidden from the general public, but Google knows what “Google Account” (which may not have Google+ at all) you use to log in. My YouTube identity is “iabervon”, and neither Google+ nor YouTube will tell you my real name (although about 1.85 million other pages will). If you find that account on Google+, you’ll see that it has exactly one piece of information, which is a link to the YouTube channel.

    • Brian Veal

      Not sure if you are trolling or retarded.

      Go take a look at all the ASCII dicks and swastikas being spammed.

      It’s almost cute how stupid you are to believe such a thing.

    • Felix Ray

      More to the point, consider Facebook, where real names have always been required. Do a search for “Facebook Bullies” and see how many suicides happened this month.

      And let me make this clear. I have nothing against Google making money from advertising. They are absolutely entitled.

    • Oh that is beautiful!

      Obviously there is a lot of vocal outrage, but what if all these people commenting represent less than 1% of the entire market.

      What market are you talking about? You need to understand that the YouTube users. aren’t the customers. We’re the product. The customers are the advertisers they sell our information to.

      Does anybody doubt that they could easily create a button to simply remove belligerent users from your youtube globally? That would be simple, and more effective than this. This is about getting your information. If they can get your real name in a facebook-style social network that’s connected to your youtube and your gmail, and your chrome, and your google drive, and whatever, they’re going to know everything about you.

      What market are you talking about? You need to understand that the YouTube c

  17. Google bought youtube for a pile of money and they’re losing money hosting so much free video. It shouldn’t come as *that* much of a surprise that Google is looking to monetize the viewership of their investment.

    And it’s hypcritical for youtube’s creator to act like this isn’t what he knew was going to happen when he sold his extremely popular, but non-revenue-generating company for an extraordinary profit.

    • Jerome P.

      You get right on that, and let me know how a no “ads” approach works for content creators who hope to make revenue. The biggest youtube channels aren’t hobbies, it is time consuming work.

    • beenyweenies

      Have fun with that philanthropic exercise that will cost something on the order of $5M per month to run. Not including the cost to build out all of that infrastructure, etc.

      People need to accept that content costs money to make and deliver, and if you want that content it’s either ads or subscription fees, your choice. But please, grow the F up and quit expecting everything for free.

    • MyNameIsMyBusiness

      It’s the principle of the thing. I stopped using G+ because I don’t want to use a bogus name. I use the “handle” I use, and I’ve used it for ages. If I have to call myself “John Smith”, at the direction of some impotent nerd from Silicon Valley, I refuse to use the site.

      The same now goes for YouTube. If I need to share a video, I’ll use email, or host it on my own damn server and send a link.

  18. Reddit and forum comments are rarely favorable. YouTube comments were horrible and anything would be an improvement. People just don’t like change, they threw hissy fits sometime the site changed design, and there was a large one when they changed the ratings system, it’s just the circle of life if the internet.

    • Jerome P.

      Exactly. Anytime a social media site changes anything, people will throw a fit as if the world is coming to an end. Changes happen, and will continue to happen. On a site with hundreds of millions of users, 90k complaints isn’t going to make them change back to an already proven broken system. I don’t think this change will do what they hoped, but it can’t be worse than sticking with dysfunctional.

        • MyNameIsMyBusiness

          Hahahahahahaha!!! ^^^^ Exactly right. I signed up for G+ when it first came out, and like a year later I get a nastygram from some douche telling me I need to use my real name.

          Well……… they can kiss my ass. I don’t use my real name online, for the most part. This is why when I check my credit report, I am never surprised.

          Google+, and now YouTube, can suck it.

  19. The goal isn’t to make Youtube comments better, that’s just the excuse , the goal is to push G+ and it’s just the new Google ,they behave as bad as everybody else (or almost ,they are not quite as evil as Apple but trying hard).

    • You just don’t know enough about Google. For instance, with Google Base, they now require all copyright and ID information stripped from OUR OWN product photos so that they can use them to advertise for OTHER Google Base users. Really nice for us to spend all that time in the studio in order to prepare ad materials for our competitors, eh?

      And don’t underestimate the damage that can be done by this real name nonsense. It muzzles anyone who is being stalked, anyone trying to stay clear of harassment by ex’es, totalitarian governments, it stifles whistle-blowing and political speech, it can put people on vacation at risk for their possessions at home — in short, it curtails and harms freedom on many levels. Google is doing exactly the wrong thing here and does not deserve our support.

      • Felix Ray

        Facebook has a real names only policy. Maybe we should ask Amanda Todd if that helped her manage being bullied.

        Oh wait that’s right, you can’t. She took her own life in October of 2012

        The worst bullying stories always come from Facebook, where real names are required. Do a serch for “Facebook Bullies” and see for yourself.. They want us to use our real names because when our friends can find us they’ll join G+, and share more information. The idea that real names will clean up the internet is either a dangerous delusion or a cynical lie. When real names are outlawed, only outlaws have real names. The trolls and bullies will maintain their anonymity, but they’ll be able to find out all about you.

    • But we don’t know for sure what the numbers are telling them. Obviously there is a lot of vocal outrage, but what if all these people commenting represent less than 1% of the entire market. Most comments I read online are people’s being outraged, but most people I talk to in person are hardly even aware there are changes and/or just don’t care much. If Youtube starts experiencing a serious drop in usage I am sure Google will adjust, but otherwise, despite the outrage, why should they bother?

      • I’m a producer, 200 vids, 3 million views. Comments are the pay back, the money doesn’t cover my cost of production. Comments are lessened, I can’t wade through the crazy google plus page to see them with all the gunk and ads, there is no one place for me to go to see the comments on all my videos for the day. Now, I can only reply on 1 comment! I get so many meaningful questions and feedback and points of view on every video. I teach cooking. My audience that comments are youngsters, beginners, and I love the interaction, it’ fuels me to make my channel. Rebecca Brand

      • Felix Ray

        Without content providers, YouTube dies. Trust me, the content providers are aware of the change. According to the 80/20 rule, about 80 per cent of youtube’s traffic comes from about 20 percent of users. The more engaged you are with youtube, the more likely you are to be aware and angry.

    • beenyweenies

      I assure you, there’s a far greater number of users who avoid participating in YouTube comments altogether because they are so disgusting. YouTube comment threads are the worst you will find on the internet.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this move has a massively positive effect on participation, and a reduction in the worst of the trolling.