youtube comments memeWhen you’re building any new community, the early days are crucial as they give you the opportunity to set the tone for your community and begin to forge a culture that underpins how members should behave on the site.  It’s crucial to get this right because once the culture is established it’s very hard to change it.

YouTube is a mature enough community now to have a well established culture, and I can’t help feeling that it’s a pretty rotten one.  Now suffice to say that it still remains a fantastic resource for sharing and viewing videos of all kinds, and in that sense it’s a site that I use regularly.  As a community however it’s poisenous.  It’s pretty rare for the comments section of a video not to fill you with the deepest despair as to the state of humanity.  They’re often riddled with insults and general trolling that add nothing to the video you’re watching.

The danger for YouTube is that this kind of spirit and behaviour starts to spread out and influences the kind of content that’s published on the site.  A study from the University of Melbourne looks at how this might be happening in a political context.

The study looked at campaign adverts from the 2012 French and American presidential elections, plus the Republican primaries in the US.  It’s telling that 60% of the American ads were negative in tone.  It’s almost like the marketing men took the when in Rome approach.

In addition to the official ads, most of the unofficial campaign videos created by supporters were also negative in tone.  The study found that the average video contained 13.4 negative statements or images per video.

“This study indicates that non–professional media creators in America are pushing the boundaries of attack advertising beyond the already harsh and highly visible climate of animosity present in the advertising put forth by candidates themselves,” says Jacob Groshek, political communications researcher in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.

“These findings are squarely at odds with some previously held ideas about the democratizing potential for online communication to reinvigorate American politics.

“But on the other hand, the findings do align with a growing body of research that suggests prevailing political and media cultures are adaptive and re-negotiated in online social media spaces.”

Now it should be said that the critical and negative nature of these ads is perhaps not ‘that’ surprising, as that is a part of the political environment.  Indeed the study found that opposition candidates were considerably more critical than incumbents, which again is not surprising.

Whilst such behaviour may sit well with political discourse, I’m not at all convinced that it sits well with anyone wanting to use YouTube for more enlightening endeavours.  It’s perhaps no surprise that TED et al have sprung up as a medium where people can watch interesting content without having to run the gauntlet of reading peurile nonsense in the comments section.

Whilst YouTube has the size and clout to survive despite the nonsense taking place on many of its videos, if you’re building your own community the chances are that you won’t survive.  So if you’re building a community in 2013, please make sure you work hard to ensure you get the culture right from the beginning, as it will save you many of the problems YouTube are facing at the moment.