For as long as I’ve been aware of YouTube comments, I can remember knowing that they are shit. It seems to be one of those commonly understood truths, some part of the canon of the internet, lodged as deep in the online psyche as Chuck Norris jokes and Impact font. I never quite understood why YouTube comments specifically seemed to attract such unique disdain. Of course, they can carry vitriol, but it’s no more than the standard level of spite that you find people reach when they’re given anonymity and a platform. There is something to be said about the pointlessness of many YouTube comments. I put this down to what my housemate calls “YouTube content” – videos that couldn’t survive on any platform that didn’t have an algorithm aggressively shoving content like SCARING KEVIN HART WITH A SNAKE down your throat. I can’t help but think that sterile, emotionless content designed to target a certain viewership leads to similarly lifeless comments.
But despite all this, I’ve come to realise that the comments section of YouTube can be beautiful and human. The first comments section that stood out to me was that of CLAUDE DEBUSSY: CLAIR DE LUNE. Despite the loud title, the comments section is more restrained, more emotional. People share stories about listening to the song with people they love, sometimes people that they’ve lost. One or two people reference an anime that the song appeared in. Someone with the username RayzeDark makes the observation that the song is what will play when the ‘credits are rolling on the universe,’ and people agree. The mood is calm, based on a shared appreciation of the way that the song makes them feel. To me, it feels like sitting, staring at the stars with a group of strangers. I became immersed in the habit of scrolling down to the comments when a video made me feel a certain way, and I realised that this was more common than I’d thought. Other people were feeling the same way, and sharing how they felt very freely.
YouTube comments sections are good for many of the same reasons they’re bad. Anonymity brings out all of the truest parts of us, not just the hate. And just like stale, corporate content brings out pointless comments, honest and emotional content brings out something human. I fully recognise that it’s the sappy, overly emotional part of me that is willing to invest this much energy into analysing YouTube comments – the same part of me that cries at ads. But I like them; I like their earnestness, I like the stories people tell, I like how publicly stupid some people can be. I like the feeling of shared joy, as though I’ve just made eye contact with someone while fireworks are going off. And I love how I can come home from a shit day, put on a video, scroll down, and have it feel like I’m staring at the stars.