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May 01, 2007

Life Threats OK in YouTube Comments

A number of friends and spamwars.com visitors have gotten a giggle out of my music video parody, Mister Spam Man, up on YouTube. The video has been live for over two months, and several folks (only one of whom I know) were kind enough to leave comments about how much they enjoyed the piece.

Last Sunday, I received the customary notice from YouTube that another comment had been added to the list. The comment was a bit out of the ordinary:

Abusive comment

If you're not fluent in Leetspeak, the comment translates to "what an asshole... someone should kill this guy."

I've intentionally blurred out the poster's YouTube ID so as to prevent you from visiting his/her page to ratchet up the view count of the one video there. From the vitriol of the comment, I'll assume the poster is male, so I'll refer to him as "he" through the rest of this blog entry. That's not to say the poster couldn't be female, but I'll use a male pronoun for convenience.

His YouTube profile (for whatever it's worth) says he is from the United States and is 23 years old.

It's true that I'm somewhat curious about the motive behind the comment (is this guy a botnet controller or spam operation programmer?), but I was more interested in what YouTube's position would be on a poster leaving such an abusive and quasi-threatening comment. Is this acceptable behavior at the site?

I checked as many policy documents as YouTube publishes online. As expected, most of the verbiage is about the videos one posts. I found nothing about what commenters may or may not do. After noodling further through the Help Center, I eventually found a form I could use to inquire whether the text of the comment was "acceptable use" in YouTube's eyes. That's all I asked.

(As an aside, high-volume sites, such as YouTube [and almost anything Google has its hands on], seem to do everything in their power to keep their users away from reaching a human at the company. I really do try to exhaust all possible automated systems and FAQ areas. But when you reach a dead end, and the "continue" link takes you back to Square One, it's extremely frustrating. You almost have to be Indiana Jones to uncover the secret support form that lets you ask an otherwise unanswered question. But I digress.)

About a day-and-a-half later, I received a reply from YouTube. In this case, a "reply" was not truly an "answer" to my question. The response pointed out that as the owner of the video, I had the option of approving or deleting comments at will. Well, duh, I could see that when I view my video's page while logged into my account (each comment has links labeled "Reply," "Remove," "Block User," and "Spam").

It appears, therefore, that there is no code of conduct for commenters on YouTube. In today's lawyer-intensive world (in the U.S., anyway), I'm a bit surprised that YouTube hasn't found it necessary to cover its behind in case a comment situation gets out of hand.

I left the comment up for a couple of days. It was so out of context as a reaction to a humorous song parody that it was laughable (especially the passive-aggressive suggestion that someone else do the deed). But in the end, I decided to delete it, lest its abusive tone upset newcomers to the video. Before it went away, however, I also took one more precaution, filing an incident report with the San Mateo (CA) County Sheriff's office. The deputy printed out the YouTube page showing the commenter's ID. The commenter had better hope that I stay healthy for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE (19 June 2007): I just noticed that YouTube's pages now include a link to a Code of Conduct document. One of the items there says the following: "There is zero tolerance for predatory behavior, stalking, threats, harassment, invading privacy, or the revealing of other members' personal information. Anyone caught doing these things may be permanently banned from YouTube." That's a good start.

Posted on May 01, 2007 at 07:52 PM