The largely unsuccessful war to rid YouTube comment sections of spam and trolls has claimed a high profile victim: Swedish gamer Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg.
The superstar YouTuber, who has more than 30 million subscribers on Google’s online video site, announced to viewers on Friday that he would be permanently disabling comments on his videos.
“Comments are my main way to communicate with you bros,” he said. “But I go to the comments and it’s mainly spam, it’s people self-advertising, it’s people trying to provoke. I don’t care about that, I want to see what you bros say, but it gets blocked out. I was hoping YouTube would figure something out, but I’m sick of it. I’m going to turn comments off forever.”
PewDiePie isn’t alone: YouTube now attracts more than a billion viewers a month, yet whatever the content – whether its the new Taylor Swift video or a dog falling off a skateboard into a basket of kittens – the comments section will often be a warzone of insults, links to dodgy sites, and self-promotional tweets directing people to competing videos of dogs skateboarding into kittens.
YouTube has attempted, but largely failed, to clean things up. Last September, the site announced new measures to clean up comments, including better moderation tools and a system that moved more popular comments to the top.
However, the changes also integrated Google+ functionality into the commenting processes, which caused a huge online backlash. Many saw the link to social media invasive and objected to being sequestered into the Google ecosystem. On top of that, spammers and “griefers” simply got more creative, creating explicit ascii art images to clog up comments sections.
An online petition, signed by 250,000 people demanded that the system be returned to its original format, and many popular YouTubers, including PewDiePie, switched off their comments sections in protest.
In November, YouTube promised to refresh the site once again, adding threaded conversations, formatted discussions and better ascii art detection, but it retained Google+ integration – much to the chagrin of some users. Even Google+ boss Bradley Horowitz questioned the integration of the services.
As an alternative, PewDiePie says he will turn to other platforms such as Twitter and Reddit to reconnect with fans.
With 439m video views in July 2014 alone – and nearly 5.9bn lifetime views for his channel – he has the clout to point fans towards whatever social network he likes to discuss the videos. In August, PewDiePie also launched an official iPhone app, which could become the hub for comments from his young, mobile-savvy fan base.
But the fact that the poster boy of YouTube stardom has been forced to sever his on-site communications with that many subscribers will be a worry to YouTube – especially because livestreaming service Twitch, which facilitates community chat as an integral element of its service, is drawing many millions of new users a month.
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