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Laurie Niles

You control your YouTube

July 10, 2008 at 4:54 AM

Sometimes the Internet feels like a big, fuzzy friend, doesn't it? The encouragement from strangers, who become Facebook or MySpace friends...the opportunity to put your poetry and performances out there for the world...

Fuzzy friend indeed.

Recently I came across an excellent performance by a violinist, posted on YouTube. It was the vibrant, lively performance of a young woman, in perfect harmony with her vibrant, lively personality. Beneath it were all the comments from residents of this appreciative world, among them, “The violinist may be thinking that to avoid being boring, she must be whoring...”

My first thoughts: Would you have said this to her face? Would you have said this if your real name were attached?

My second thought, get it OUT. Do not let that comment stand, friend.

On, we have learned, from 11 years of sometimes painful experience, that we must make readers accountable before we allow them to become members and post their thoughts, comments and work on the site. It's why we have such a rigorous registration and verification policy, and we are aggressive about identifying those who violate our Guidelines for Writers and responsive when readers report problems. (Just e-mail me!) Thus, we have a generally supportive vibe here at, and a community who appreciates what we're doing.

This is not the case everywhere on the Internet, and especially on YouTube. YouTube attracts a general population and requires no verification for posting comments. That kind of website is not going to regulate what people say about you. Fortunately, YouTube allows you options, such as approving the comments that are made about your video posts. This puts you in charge of weeding out the inevitable bad content from anonymous readers.

So I'm giving you permission: DO IT. Filter the comments on your YouTube videos, and only let the ones you approve stand.

Is this fair and objective? Is this a violation of free speech?

Well, let's just ponder another question: is it fair for someone named “xpopok” to write a comment on a video of your 13-year-old son, saying he looks fat? Is it fair for someone named “lumis87” to call a young woman a “whore” because she plays with a lot of motion? Is it fair for a person named 2wy0l1o to comment that a Juilliard graduate plays out of tune because he missed one note in a Paganini caprice? Sure, maybe you put that video up for your students, or for your public relations campaign, or for the critical assessment of experts. But if you have created a public video, that video is there for an unpredictable assortment of viewers all across the globe. Those viewers are free to say what they may, and depending on the setting you've chosen, to post those comments to the world.

I'm all for free speech, provided an identifiable PERSON is doing the speaking. At one point, in the early days of, we allowed people to post anonymously. We learned something very important: People will say anything and everything under the shroud of anonymity. Once we made people use their names, the level of discourse improved remarkably; people chose their words and spoke to each other more like humans speaking to humans.

"Free speech" does not mean that you have to endure the blathering of every crackpot on the Internet. There's no integrity and little value in the ill-considered judgments of a coward.

From Wiebke Nazareth
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 6:11 AM
A big thank you for this post, Laurie!
From Craig Coleman
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 8:28 AM
Thank you Laurie for an excellent blog as always.


From Eitan Silkoff
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 8:48 AM
excellent blog Laurie. Really enjoyed it.
I agree with you fully, but I do find many comments are now hidden when other users rate them with a "thumbs down." On this note, we see more mature comments that show other more acceptable opinions. I sometimes don't agree with the opinions, and definately despise the spam that is posted, but this is the modern day technology age. Internet is the place for loads of unneccesary things. The unfortunate thing is that the good things such as are hard to find amongst all the nonsense out there,but are useful and provide others with a learning experience.
So thank you very much for this insightful post.
From sharelle taylor
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 9:46 AM
Absolutely agree with you Laurie.

I usually post my videos with the choice to approve comments. Freedom of speech also allows freedom of reply. I vote with my 'disallow' finger.

Its very helpful for those comments like : that's the worst thing I've ever heard :

Who give a pigs ass what that person has heard and what they think of what they heard.

On the other hand I will leave in comments like - you look too tight, try to loosen the left hand - because maybe someone reading can benefit.

From Wendy Evenden Loney
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 10:10 AM
What a great post!! *** standing ovation *** back to lurking.
From E. Smith
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 12:28 PM
Of course, you should filter your YouTube comments if that makes you more comfortable. But I think it's more interesting to take a free market approach.

My daughter has a YouTube page and she's gotten her share of outrageous comments. What usually happens is that subsequent viewers suppress these comments with the "thumbs down" option, so that they are not visible. Subsequent commenters also call people to task on their rudeness. We sit back and watch, and she deletes very few comments. The majority of the comments are blandly appreciative: "I've never heard Bach before, but it seems like he wrote some really cool music." Some are thoughtful and frankly useful. A few are just nasty-- but we feel it's important not to censor the page unless the comments are obscene. For a while there was a lot of spam, but YouTube seems to have that under control for the moment.

From E. Smith
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 12:36 PM
I want to amend my comment above to say that I very much appreciate Laurie' policy of accountability on, which is a completely different culture from YouTube. It's the difference between a garden filled with friends and the unfettered jungle. Both are valuable and need to be treated with different kinds of care and respect.
From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 2:13 PM
Good post and good points from E.S. too.
From Bonny Buckley
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 5:15 PM
Yeah! Well-said, Laurie. Youtube is a bit of a monstrosity, comment-monitored and not, because there is also little or no regulation as to the truthfulness to what the videos posted represent. I am grateful for the accountability and verification required here on This is surely one of the highest cultured (I almost wrote 'class') communities around. Thank you for staying with this over all this time!
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 8:03 PM
I agree with E., who is saying that all the comments mean something. If you page through the thousands of comments on that Dan Fogelberg video you won't see a single bad one, and I doubted someone is stripping bad ones out.

But - I'm disappointed to learn that they might be stripped out, or being thumbed out, whatever that is. Because I assumed they were a reflection of reality!

I don't think anonymity factors in as heavily as you think. What's the first thing that happens in real life to someone who claims to be classical but who's doing things a little, er, differently? YT is very mainstream now, not a student recital or private party.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 8:31 PM
P.S., being that YT is mainstream, I wouldn't put something up unless it was ready (ready to defend itself against all comers). Just as I wouldn't rent a hall and invite the public and the critics, unless I was ready to do the same there. That's why I stay home and only play for funsies :) At home is where no one will criticize. Always been so.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 8:46 PM
Bravo, Laurie! We all heard the saying “Your freedom ends at the tip of my nose.” We have rights to free speech all right, but like any other rights or freedoms, one simply cannot enjoy such right if he/she doesn’t also know how to properly exercise it. Legally, ethically and as a matter of policy, free societies have tons of limits rightly set to prevent and deal with misuse or abuse rights and freedoms. Liable, intentional misrepresentations, unprovoked insulting and abusive language used against other people are just a few examples. I’m truly grateful to you Laurie for your clarity in thinking on these matters and for these policies we have to keep one of the healthiest and interesting sites one can ever find!
From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 10:40 PM
I can't bring myself to read any comments on the youtube. It is too stressful.

I also appreciate the honesty that is involved in this website.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 11, 2008 at 12:30 AM
I often think about parallels between science and music, and this blog brought up some similar thoughts. In particular, there is a debate in some parts of the scientific community about whether peer review should remain anonymous for very similar reasons--that the cover of anonymity allows people to say outrageous things about other people's work, things that they would not say if they had to sign their names.

And this is at a higher level than YouTube. People who are chosen to be peer reviewers for scientific papers and grants generally have an advanced degree and/or are employed in a similar field. But some portion of them still say outrageously negative, non-constructive, even nasty things in their reviews.

The main argument for preserving anonymity in peer review is for protecting the "little guy." That is, young investigators, people from lesser-known schools, people with more pedestrian pedigrees, all might be intimidated into treating a paper or grant from a big name with kid gloves. They wouldn't want to anger someone with a lot of power in the field by giving one of their papers or grants a bad but honest review. The anonymity allows people who aren't big, famous names to call it like they see it, to say that the emperor has no clothes without fear of repercussions. I think that this too is important. And so in science, I end up having sympathy with both sides of the debate, and understanding the value of the anonymity (even as I read the occasional scathing, unfair, pig-headed review, and cringe).

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 11, 2008 at 1:23 AM
Thanks for all your thoughtful comments, everybody!

If a comment something is obscene, misogynist, racist, or made in obvious ignorance, I would not hesitate to take it down. As for the others, use your judgment. No matter what, YOU will see the comments.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 11, 2008 at 4:18 AM
Interesting discussion, Karen. I must say, the rationale behind the anonymous academic review seems to me extremely week but it makes sense in a highly hierarchical community, where people in powerful position can single-handedly determine other’s career path if they decide they don’t like these ‘small’ people for reason beyond merit. It is also true in many dysfunctional environments where openness and transparency is lacking. However, I don’t see the parallel in online posting.

Even in academic settings, it is not what you say but how you say it that matters. In most cases, one criticises others in a respectful manner can only gain respect from others than doing oneself harm.

What anonymity does is in effect protecting those who either don’t have the courage to tell the truth or in need to speak/write professionally, or both. Personally, I feel it is distasteful to say things about other people or their work negatively without prepared to say so in their face. Why do we want to encourage such behaviour in any healthy community is beyond me, but I’ll leave it for another discussion.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 11, 2008 at 7:12 AM
Also, who said about you or your work is just as important as what has been said – not everyone’s opinion on all matters has the same weight. In the academic world me and my husband are familiar with, when a piece of work is internally reviewed, the potential reviewer is usually told that his/her identity will not be revealed so as to make him/her feel more comfortable to do the job, but it is not unusual for some reviewers to waive such protection because it is better for the author of the work to know how much weight he/she should put on the criticisms if the reviewer’s ID and background is made known the author. Sometimes an author would like to follow up with the reviewer for further clarification or discussion, especially if the reviewer is thoughtful and comments are constructive...

Anyway, my point is anonymity and confidentiality although useful, should be exercised with caution.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 11, 2008 at 10:30 AM
Yixi, I generally agree with you (and with Laurie here).

But, I'm actually grateful for the online crackpots I've "met" and had to deal with. I started posting online back in 1995 or so, and back then I was really shy and thin-skinned. In person I tended to just hold my tongue and was intimidated to engage in discussion and debate. I was the quiet student in the back of the class who never said anything, just took copious notes. I actively avoided classroom situations where "class participation" was part of the grade.

But I found that the internet was an environment where I could try out and hone arguments and get feedback--some of it rude and obnoxious and unhelpful--and learn to deal with that feedback internally and not be thrown by it.

It also gave me courage. I made my own mistakes, said my own dumb and obnoxious things, and this made me more tolerant of others. I learned how to mentally separate the wheat from the chaff and to not be afraid to engage.

This is an ongoing process; I'm not saying that I'm perfect at this, even now more than 10 years later. I can still get defensive and say dumb and obnoxious things.

But I was just at a family reunion with certain family members who in the past have been able to get my goat and suck me into silly, unproductive arguments about hot-button topics, and I realized then just how far I had come. One of them in particular baited me, the way he always has, back to when I was a teenager, and instead of getting defensive I was able to just deflect it and make a joke out of it and we both ended up laughing.

I wasn't afraid of this relative anymore. I've seen and heard and been the target of far worse on the internet--and not only survived, but thrived. There's where there might be a parallel to academic peer review too: if you can take the worst they dish out, figure out how to respond to it, and still believe in your own work, in the end you and the work are stronger for it.

From Andrew Sords
Posted on July 12, 2008 at 2:51 AM
Great post, Laurie...all too true.

Your blogs are always so rational, down-to-earth, and considerate. Robert, is she like that around the house? :) Just kidding.

Hope y'all are well.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 12, 2008 at 4:39 AM
After thinking about this, I realize there are two ways to approach it, motheringly or fatheringly :) Laurie is mothering it. If you want to um, break on through to the other side, then father it - know what you're doing, have confidence in it, and dumb comments are just that. If some of the comments you read are beneficial though, maybe you were a bit premature.... Unless you're there for the comments of course.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 12, 2008 at 11:46 AM
One other thing that strikes me as a bit, well, quaint, is the idea that people are ruder and more obnoxious on the internet than they are in person. There is no excuse for any of those comments that Laurie posted, but I'm not convinced that none of those things would have been said in person.

And in-person rudeness or meanness, especially coming from someone you know and/or care about and/or who knows you, can be quite devastating. What's more, it can't be made to go away with a click of a key. The relative anonymity of the on-line world can work to your advantage too. At least here there *is* the possibility of a filter, or a delete key.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 12, 2008 at 7:39 PM
I am currently working with a person who is just so rude and insulting and clueless that she is doing that. It is somewhat devastating even though I’m pretty thick-skinned and quick to put a stop on things that taste bad. Rude comments I saw online however, especially they seem to direct to me personally, don’t have the same magnitude somehow. I can laugh and brush it off quite easily. But if the same rude comments come from ones I respect and care about what they say, then the feeling will be completely different. It is a tacitly selective process for me to be upset by people’s comments.

I also find we sometimes take the verbal and/or written messages way too seriously. People say all sorts of things. Now I’m getting older, I’ve learned to go beyond what people say but pay more attention to what they do or not do for others.

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