YouTube is fighting comment spam in part by forcing channels to keep their subscriber counts public. This could be more harmful than helpful.
YouTube has understandable reasons for its recent decision to disable the option to hide subscriber counts, but it’s a questionable idea. The platform faces many issues that hurt the user and creator experience. It’s admirable that YouTube typically tries to address the most significant problems, but this is one of those times when the solution could potentially do more harm.
The issue in question this time around is comment spam. People (or perhaps algorithms created by people) are posting comments on popular videos under accounts pretending to be either the video’s creator or a prominent member of a community related to the content. The fake accounts will typically have a user name closely resembling a more famous YouTuber, combined with either a copy of the real account’s avatar or something similar from a distance. These accounts post an absurd amount of comments on each video and are almost always trying to catch other viewers in some kind of phishing scam.
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To challenge this problem, YouTube recently implemented a multi-step process. The Verge report that the platform is offering improved moderation options for creators so they’ll have easier access to functions like comment approval. The number of typical characters used in a screen name is being reduced. The idea here is to make it more difficult to create fake accounts with names like Screen R@nt, for example. And lastly, YouTube is removing the option to hide a channel’s subscriber count. Fake accounts tend to have low subscriber counts since they don’t make genuine attempts to promote their channels, so this move intends to make these spoofers less challenging to identify.
Smaller Creators Get Caught In YouTube’s Crossfire
One of the biggest hurdles any new YouTube creator faces is gaining legitimacy within a community. Regardless of the person’s target audience, YouTube is big enough that there’s inevitably someone who already posts that genre of content and probably gets hundreds of thousands of views. Smaller channels then have to combat YouTube stars by offering something those big names don’t, but even then, most viewers pay closer attention to content from channels with high subscriber counts. For example, it’s tough for a cooking channel with 30 subscribers to appear authoritative when every related video is from a channel with 200 million subs. For this reason, it can benefit the smaller channel to hide its numbers.
Furthermore, some YouTube communities are inherently competitive or combative. For example, creators from opposing teams often post content in the eSports scene. Naturally, a team with a higher subscription base will earn more respect and attention, which can have financial implications. In YouTube’s fitness community, creators constantly battle to hold a reputation as a more trusted source of information. There are even channels that exist strictly to help with fundraising for worthy causes that can lose support because some users feel a channel with high subscriber numbers must be doing well enough from YouTube revenue to be beyond the need for donations.
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YouTube’s heart is in the right place here. Some of the platform’s biggest creators have posted content outside their usual territory to specifically address comment spam. Aesthetically speaking, it also makes YouTube look unprofessional and poorly managed. However, it’s worth taking the time to present alternatives to this approach in the interest of keeping the door open for YouTube’s next rising star.