As YouTube works to clean up its platform amid criticism over how it has facilitated all sorts of extreme movements and communities, the video platform is now testing a new option which would see all video comments hidden by default, with users needing to tap a button to view any comments on a video.
As you can see in this example, provided by XDA Developers, all comments on all videos, in this iteration of the app, would be hidden behind a specific 'Comments' button. That would mean that if users chose to view them, they would need to make specific effort to do so, which could help reduce issues with spam, abuse, and the spread of concerning content.
YouTube has confirmed the test to TechCrunch, saying that:
“We’re always experimenting with ways to help people more easily find, watch, share and interact with the videos that matter most to them. We are testing a few different options on how to display comments on the watch page. This is one of many small experiments we run all the time on YouTube, and we’ll consider rolling features out more broadly based on feedback on these experiments.”
Which seems like a pretty generic response - what YouTube isn't acknowledging is that this test is likely spurred by reports that pedophile groups have been using video comments to share content on the platform, or that politically radicalized users have been connecting with each other via the same.
Sure, YouTube comments have always been concerning, the comments section has long been known as a questionable area of the app, which is why YouTube has essentially de-emphasized it by moving it further down from the actual content, and out of view without scrolling. But these more recent reports have revealed a whole other side to the section - which is what prompted YouTube to de-activate all comments on videos featuring minors back in March.
This new test is the next level of that shift. It is a test for now, and YouTube hasn't said it'll be expanded further. But it shows that the platform is looking at more options to protect users, and that it is experimenting with advanced options, which could have a significant impact on the platform's overall functionality.
And indeed, YouTube needs to act - the aforementioned reports around YouTube's capacity to help fuel concerning movements and behaviors are significant, and are already drawing the attention of regulators. While Facebook has been the key focus of much of the discussion around such misuse, YouTube is also a significant concern - and at almost two billion users, its influence can be equally significant.
Case in point - The New York Times recently published an article which looked, in detail, at how a young American man was radicalized by YouTube content, sinking further and further down the rabbit hole with each tap on his 'Up Next...' recommendations.
De-emphasizing comments won't necessarily stop such, but it highlights the measures being considered in the effort to clean up social connection surfaces.