Most of the time reading comments on the Internet is like attending a slightly dysfunctional family dinner, full of passionately argued, half-baked political theories and tasteless jokes. Wandering into a YouTube comments section, however, can be like walking into a dive bar bathroom, walls and mirrors covered in graffiti as profane as it is pointless.
Last month at Google I/O, an audience member asked Dror Shimshowitz, a head of product at YouTube, what he could do about the terrible comments on his YouTube channel. According to Wired, Shimshowitz responded, “We’re working on some improvements to the comment system, so hopefully we’ll have an update on that in the next few months.”
Apparently he wasn’t lying. Try to comment on a video today and a window will pop up with the title “Start using your full name on YouTube,” which will sign you in with your Google+ account. A YouTube spokesperson told BetaBeat that this option has been offered since June 29 and that users with a Google+ account will see the same thing if they try to upload a video.
If you don’t want to use your Google+ account, you can refuse — but then you’re taken to a second prompt, which asks “Are you sure?” Then, like some kind of Internet degenerate, you must explain why you don’t want to use your full name.
Most of the reasons provided involve the user being a business or product, although you can choose the mysterious “My channel is for personal use, but I cannot use my real name,” useful if you are cruising YouTube as a member of the witness protection program.
It would have been more honest if YouTube had included, “I’m a jerk and would like to troll comment sections anonymously,” but sadly that’s not an option. Still, it’s important to remember that not everyone on the site is a bored troll looking to mock watchers of Justin Bieber videos.
Recently YouTube launched its own face-blurring tool, a valuable tool for protesters trying to protect themselves from government recrimination. That pretty much sums up why YouTube will (hopefully) never completely take away the option to comment anonymously.
Balancing the needs for free speech and civility is a tricky proposition that, quite frankly, no website has completely figured out. This is definitely a step in the right direction for YouTube; whether or not its users will actually start using their real names is another question.