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 Change.org 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.