Like many people who have perfected the art of procrastinating, I spend a lot of time on YouTube. I love YouTube: cats, science, music, and so on—it’s a time suck. One thing that doesn’t suck my time is leaving comments. There are a few reasons why:
1) YouTube comments rarely result in reasonable conversation. Sure, I think that most people go into them with the right intentions, but all it takes is one troll jumping in accusing other users of being “gay virgins” for responding the way they do to whatever video they’re viewing. Then things devolve and Godwin’s Law (the longer an argument lasts on the Internet, the more likely a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis will be made) proves accurate yet again.
2) I can never get a handle on the format or the logic behind the format of the comments section. As far as I can tell (and I never delve particularly far into this exploration, see #1) there is no logical threading or way of sorting comments. Additionally, when I try to click to view more, it often skips up and I have to re-read the vitriol I’ve just been over to get to the new stuff. There’s very little motivation to figure out how the comments actually work.
And this brings us to problem #3…
3) When I do feel compelled to post a comment, YouTube makes me go through the motions of looking at how my account would work with my real name attached to it. They then ask if I would like to change my user name to my real name and make it very difficult to avoid doing so. The first time I went through this, it took 10 minutes to navigate through the options to figure out how I could avoid attaching my full name to my account. YouTube did a great job of disguising the option, making it look like they were politely asking while trying to shove me through that door of using my real name. The second time this happened, the button to refuse was easier to find—whether because YouTube changed to make it more obvious, or if I was just a little more with it to figure it out, I’m not sure.
There are plenty of YouTubers out there (just look at the trolling comments and there is a certain correlation between anonymity and asshattery—asshattery usually comes from anonymous usernames, but anonymous usernames don’t necessarily equal asshattery) who have managed to keep their anonymous usernames, and they certainly comment. So it can’t be that difficult—either that, or they just routinely click through the would-you-like-to-use-your-real-name? spiel. But as someone who spends a lot of time on the Internet, the fact that I had difficulty navigating away from the switch is a bit worrisome.
But why? Is there a compelling reason to stay anonymous on online platforms when I already use my real name on my Gmail, Google+ (which admittedly I haven’t looked at since the day I signed up), facebook, and LinkedIn? YouTube is of course Google Inc. wanting to link my accounts to make me more appealing to advertisers on YouTube (my guess) to have a profile that is easier to target with specific ads. All of this smells of M.T. Anderson’s brilliant Young Adult novel Feed (1984 for the 21st Century) and while the advertisers can’t literally get inside my brain, they can absolutely target my presence on the Internet.
We could probably agree that the Internet is our brain outside our physical body in a collective metaphorical vat of awesome. It’s an amazing tool but, the thing is, we all have times when we want to get outside of our heads and just do or be something else for a while and the Internet allows us to do that. So, privacy concerns aside (a serious concern on their own), I want to be anonymous in some places on the Internet simply for the freeing feeling of not having to be myself for awhile. Sure, the anonymous me and the real me share interests, but it comes down to the interaction with other people. Anonymous me can talk to strangers around the world (or next door…who knows) in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily be willing to with my real identity and it has nothing to do with the quality or subject matter of the discourse, and everything to do with the feeling of being free from my real self for awhile, just to geek out on the Internet.
Google/YouTube is making this difficult, and I say shame on them for impeding the conversation.