How YouTube Spotlight Became The Most Toxic Place On YouTube

7 March 2018, 16:57 | Updated: 7 March 2018, 17:38

youtube spotlight toxic
Picture: other
Benedict Townsend

By Benedict Townsend

Racism, sexism, homophobia - why exactly does YouTube Spotlight attract so much hatred?

YouTube Spotlight is the home of YouTube the brand on YouTube the website. It's the eighth most subscribed channel on the site and is YouTube's primary way of projecting it's values to its users.

It's also a cesspit of incredible proportions.

The comments are filled with a kind of brazen hatred and bigotry that you don't normally see on mainstream websites - at least not in such quantity. The videos are magnets for dislikes - in fact, looking at the dislike-to-like ratio alone, you'd assume that Spotlight was uploading videos of people throwing puppies into volcanoes or something.

What exactly went wrong here? How did the home of YouTube, on YouTube become such a stunningly horrible place, even by the internet's already rock bottom standards? Let's dive in, shall we:

What's so bad about YouTube Spotlight?

A video entitled '#CreateBlackHistory: Celebrating Black History Month' has 35 thousand dislikes. A video called '#ProudToBe: Celebrate Brave Voices this Pride' has 285 thousand. The top comment on that video is also someone saying 'DEUS VULT', a white supremacist phrase which is 'jokingly' used by people online. You know, one of those online jokes that's indistinguishable from a serious statement and which the user clearly actually meant but which they shield by claiming 'a joke' to cover themselves. Because we're not quite at a place where people can be openly neo-Nazi oh wait.

Users have turned disliking the videos into a kind of sport, and the comment sections of Spotlight videos are filled with the kind of vitriol that hasn't been seen on YouTube since the wild west days of 2008.

There's method to the malice

The hatred within these comment sections is not random. There are often large, coordinated efforts by online groups to disrupt these videos. For example, a video YouTube released called 'More Than A Refugee' was inundated with hateful comments and dislikes, which we found were partly due to a campaign organised on the infamous website 4Chan.

4chan's efforts to disrupt a video about refugees. Picture: other

Much like the wave of Russian bots that are currently clogging up Twitter, a coordinated effort like this can give the impression that extreme beliefs are much more widely held than they are.

A large group of people all randomly rushing to post negative things leads the layman to assume the video must be in some way controversial, little do they know that the comments have been planned out and organised.

Why all the hate?

I mean, take a wild guess. These are videos about black people and gay people, these are videos about refugees. It doesn't take a genius to see why certain people are getting so angry at these videos.

I have to say it still stuns me that people are in any way surprised that a giant tech company would lean towards progressive politics., but hey, people are full of surprises.

The fact that these videos often deal with minorities and with polarising social issues makes them a lightning rod for angry comments.

Is YouTube allowed to get political?

Of course! YouTube is a privately owned company, it is not the government. It can do whatever it wants (within the bounds of the law) and - let's be clear - YouTube owes its users basically nothing.

If YouTube wants to weigh in on social and political issues it is perfectly within its rights to, just as you are in your rights to leave the platform if you dislike it.

Would it be in YouTube's best interest to not post overtly political videos? Maybe. But they've clearly decided they want their brand to stand for something, despite the cost. This is understandable considering they're not the best at dealing with their community.

Are things going to change?

Let's be honest here - probably not? At the end of the day there's only so much YouTube can do, and if a large number of people really, really want to spend their time disrupting YouTube Spotlight videos for some reason, they're probably going to be able to do so.

An obvious fix would just be to turn off comments and likes on YouTube Spotlight videos, cos it's not like people have productive conversations in YouTube comments at the best of times, let alone when some guy is really mad that people who aren't white exist.

But YouTube has long been afraid of being accused of 'censorship', a word that has truly lost all meaning in 2018, that they seem reluctant to do this. Still, one must ask whether an open comment section that is filled with nothing but hatred and bile is better than no comment section at all.