I just finished reading the research study titled Public comment sentiment on educational videos: Understanding the effects of presenter gender, video format, threading, and moderation on YouTube TED talk comments. After I read the title, but before I read the article, I felt obnoxious and dismissive; I could just go ahead and write the conclusion section without reading the article, I thought. Obviously, women were going to suffer negative comments much more often than men, and moderation on their videos would be equal to those of men, lest youtube/google demonstrate a bias. Surely a layman nor an academic requires a research paper to prove this.

After reading the article, it was not exactly what I expected, yet I was correct about the disparity of polarizing comments towards women versus men. As I’ve been very aware of my former contrarian attitude in my undergrad, I’ve decided to try to validate why my predictions were accurate as a reader of the research.

As a reader, I would be classified as a highly educated millennial. That would make me highly techno-literate, immersed in social media and networks, and I would hold social justice in high regard. All those things are true (I think). One could challenge me on those things, but I can safely say that there is no doubt that I have been immersed in online communities for a very long time. My experience of being social online has consistently revealed that a person is willing to be racist, sexist, ageist, etc… when anonymity (or at the very least the distance between parties) is present. A person may lose inhibitions to be nasty for fun or express what they truly believe in what they perceive is a ‘safe’ environment.

This is just not a phenomenon in social networks. I find online video games to have some of the most toxic communities I have ever been in. I’m going to out and embarrass myself, but my former favorite video game company is one called Blizzard. Blizzard created and manages Starcraft, Overwatch, World Of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and Diablo, which are all major money makers and quite well known in the gaming community. I played several of these games (primarily World of Warcraft) for a very long time. I still dabble in a few of the others because I refuse to grow up in some aspects of my life. But I want to focus on my experience in Warcraft.

I started playing the game upon its initial release in 2004. Thousands of players would be able to chat with each other at the same time. The community was polite, helpful, exciting. Players would assist one another. Circles of players would form, forming what are called ‘guilds’. The game exploded in popularity. A social contract was formed in the community. Negative behavior resulted in other players blacklisting you, and spreading the news of who you were. Ten years later, the game had 10 million subscribers across the world. And ten years later, the community was different. Players were nasty, crass, sarcastic. Guilds were little more than a place for players earn a few extra rewards. Instead of assistance, new players were met with jeers of incompetence. So what happened? The game got big. The players had less and less contribution to the online environment. There was no need to have a social contract. Repercussions to negative behavior were no longer a feared consequence when the perpetrator was in a much larger pool of people; made some enemies? No big deal, there’s lots of new friends to make…one could safely express their negative statements then escape into the vast crowd.

This can be seen in Blizzard’s other video game communities, and is a unfortunate truth accepted by most regular players. Some loathe it, some do not. Blizzard is not the only company with this problem. Microsoft (Halo), Electronic Arts (Battlefield), Activision (Call of Duty), all face the same problem. There are other video games where this problem does not exist, and some are bastions where toxic players are asked to ‘return’ to one of the aforementioned games. The difference in those games to the others? Size. The big, most popular multiplayer games are the most toxic.

This same comparison can be made to social networks. Youtube, Facebook, 4chan, and Reddit have a heavy level of discriminatory/negative user-created content. These big social networks do not foster communities, they’re too large to do so. Tight communities have users that can still hold each other accountable.

The bigger they are, the more discriminatory content (sexism, in this case) will be present. It seems to be the trend. Perhaps, using the methods in this research article, one could properly explore the ratios of discrimination on networks compared to size of their userbase.

Link to article:

Public comment sentiment on educational videos: Understanding the effects of presenter gender, video format, threading, and moderation on YouTube TED talk comments