“YouTube commenters are the scum of the earth.”
So someone told me as I compulsively scrolled through the comments after a video. It’s widely held — and perhaps scientifically verifiable – assumption. But even so, I love reading YouTube comments, because amid the ugliness you can find hidden gems of humanity at its best.
Under a video of the Cloud Atlas sextet, a user named ali mamoer said: “The reason I listen to this is because it was the first movie I watched with my ex (first love). I miss her today. F**k this comment but I really don’t know were the f**k i’ve to go. I can’t do it without her. I feel terrible, i’m depressed and f**k today really.”
Most of us wouldn’t turn to YouTube for solace, afraid we’d only receive hate. Yet in this unlikeliest of places, ali mamoer received thirty-one responses of support, advice, and shared stories.
A user named Verceous movingly summed up what many others said: “Ali, I have been where you were and are now. Trust when I say these feelings will pass and you will be able to love again . . . My advice to you is do not close yourself off, do not stop loving because that would be a true tragedy!”
And then there’s FooFighter3570: “Reading these comments to this music actually brought tears to my eyes . . . I was not prepared to suddenly stumble upon a meeting place of broken hearts while listening to a song that makes me very emotional anyways . . . this is now one of the best things the internet has ever shown me.”
A user named Hylian Beard wrote, “I think you all just broke the Internet. Is this still youtube? Where did the actual thought, compassion and consideration come from?”
The compassion came from that hidden heart of humanity: empathy. Even in unlikely corners like YouTube, people can respond to suffering with compassion. Not always, of course, but often enough to bring a smile to story seekers like me.
We create the communities we desire by our comments. People expect YouTube comments to be nasty and vitriolic, so they feel that their own inappropriate words are excused. In a study performed by PLOS ONE, comments on TED talks on the TED website and YouTube were compared. Seventy-two percent of comments on TED were relevant to the video’s content, as opposed to only 57 percent of comments on YouTube. Moreover, there were 5 times as many personal insults on YouTube as there were on TED.
So back to Hylian Beard’s good question: Why the sudden outpouring of love on YouTube?
According to Brené Brown, “We’re hungry for people who have the courage to say, “I need help…”
Brown gave one of the most viewed TED talks in 2010 on the subject of vulnerability and the power of showing up. Being vulnerable is about being truthful; we shy away from vulnerability in ourselves because we are afraid it will make us seem weak, but we are drawn to it in others. Under the Cloud Atlas video, ali mamoer was vulnerable, and people responded.
The best of humanity on YouTube is rare, but it’s there. We can help it come out by showing up.
Image by Thomas Leuthard.