My first reaction was "Oh, HELLS to the no..."
October 22, 2015 8:00 AM   Subscribe

My stepson (12.75 years old, tall, sensitive, excelling in his 7th-grade computer classes) asked if he could set up a YouTube channel to post gameplay and commentary type stuff. He currently spends most of his screen time watching that sort of thing and playing along (various, mostly iOS games). I'm only vaguely aware of the phenomenon, being An Old, and my initial thought was "I do not want to let this kid be exposed to YouTube commenters."

If you have a bright kid who did this sort of thing, what do you wish you'd done from the beginning? Said no? Said whatever? Set down ground rules? Is there any way to moderate comments short of blocking them entirely? Any risks of identity theft (we wouldn't associate it with his real name, of course) or other material harm?

So far, I've got "Parent must vet any video before you post" and "Parent has total independent access (e.g., passwords*) to channel and can check it for anything at any time." What else do I need to know?

* -- Or whatever the hell else I'd need to be able to look at whatever I would need to look at.
posted by Etrigan to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You can keep YouTube videos closed to comments. Like, that might defeat the purpose for him, if he's hoping to get cool people commenting on and responding to his posts, but it's entirely possible to forbid commenting on videos.
posted by mskyle at 8:09 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you are overthinking this. This is just how people communicate anymore. How would you have felt if you were only allowed to talk on the phone if your parents were listening on the other line? Talk about the bad stuff, tell them you trust them.
posted by H. Roark at 8:15 AM on October 22, 2015 [31 favorites]

He asked if he could set up a YouTube channel to post gameplay and commentary type stuff... my initial thought was "I do not want to let this kid be exposed to YouTube commenters."

Have you asked him which channels are his favourites and then gone to look at what the comments are actually like? In my experience (which may not match his demographic reality at all), if the videos are about games and the videocaster is white and male, any trolling comments are likely to be along the lines of "u suck and your favourite game sux*" rather than the kind of very personal bullying that justifiably terrifies parents.

You can check in on the channel every few days and have conversations about comments that cause you concern. "Hey I saw a comment where someone seemed to be really worked up about XYZ; that would have made me feel attacked, how did you see it?"

You can also have a policy of absolutely no replies to comments, ever. This protects him from engaging with harassers, which is like 85% of the battle, skipped. This may or may not be something he'd go for depending on the channel culture he is dreaming of.

Finally, you should recognise that the chances of your son's channel gaining enough traction for this to be a problem is very, very small. Most videocasts are very small, very obscure, and garner few views and far fewer comments even than that.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:18 AM on October 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Definitely no personally identifying information such as full name, address, phone number, birth date, school name, parents' names, email address, etc. Maybe have him set up an internet pseudonym that he can go by instead, for privacy.
posted by jillithd at 8:20 AM on October 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, there is a way to moderate YouTube comments without blocking them entirely; you can let them be posted and delete them if necessary, you can hold them for approval, you can even set up filtering. If the trolling gets bad, you can temporarily disable comments. That's what I did on my YouTube channels when I had them. You can also hold them for approval.

I don't have a kid. So I'm talking about what I wish my parents had done--and, to an extant, what they *did* do, when I was cyberbullied on IRC back in the day. Talk to him about YouTube comments. Show him some--show him some nasty ones, though obviously screen as you deem appropriate.

Then talk to him about moderating his YouTube comments. YMMV because it depends on what kind of kid he is and what kind of things he's sensitive to; it might be worth talking to him about moderating as a way to protect OTHER people from cyber-bullies, if he has a protective streak. But it seems to me like normalizing moderation of comments, and reinforcing his RIGHT to moderate the comments on his own YouTube channel, and his RIGHT to not have to put up with people who are just being mean on the internet, might be helpful.

And, then pull rank -- tell him that you will let him run a YouTube channel if you have access to it and can supervise his comment moderation. Tell him it's a skill like any other skill, and you want to make sure he knows how to do it before you let him do it on his own.

Sadly, you're not going to be able to protect him completely. He has to grow up in this awful world too, and he has to know what is out there and what he might be exposed to, and even then he'll think that he can handle it. Don't tell him that he *can't* handle it, but do tell him that learning how to handle it is hard, and he will need help. Think about it like training wheels.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:24 AM on October 22, 2015 [11 favorites]

My 9-year-old has a gameplay commentary YouTube channel. He hasn't done a whole lot with it, but like your son, this was how he spent a lot of his screen time (Minecraft videos!) so it was somewhat inevitable he would want to do this.

My rules are similar to the suggestions above. NO identifying information (I haven't let him show his face) and I vet everything and have password access. I haven't moderated comments - he hasn't really attracted that much attention except from a couple of his same-age friends who are doing the same thing. He has 3 subscribers including me and his father.

But, yes, he's been exposed to some things I wish he hadn't - but that's come mostly from watching the other gameplay videos. Chiefly, has casual use of the gerund form of the f-bomb attached to just about any adjective. Arg. We're talking about language, and I'm definitely on the lookout for the bigger uglies such as misogynistic attitudes that can crop up in the darker corners of gamer spaces. Being aware of what he's doing and talking about it, so the YouTube universe doesn't exist in a vacuum, seems to be key. Good luck!
posted by pantarei70 at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, he's young, so I understand the concern, but not all YouTube channels are equal, and the gameplay and commentary type channel you are describing is actually pretty common these days, pretty popular among people who play games (not all just young teenagers, either) and not necessarily pure evil. They're just another type of community, and some of them are very positive about their subjects, helpful to others, and receive decent feedback.

I'm going to use Vainglory as an example. It's a game played on iPhones and iPads, and quite a few people record themselves playing and give commentary on the background, in order to give helpful tips to others, teach them the ropes, etc.

Shin Kaigan is one of well known players of this game. (Yes, you can have fame at this level). Here is his Youtube Channel, School of Shin.

Take a look at it to get a sense for the kind of videos people post, and the comments they receive -- in this case as a teenage asian boy. (I believe he's in his teens, early 20s at the most. I'm old now, okay? I can no longer judge age.)

Yes, you should keep an eye on it to see how it goes, make sure he understands there are creeps and crazies out there -- but if this is the kind of thing he is interested in, he will get into it sooner or later. You should be pleased that he's at the technological level of understanding how to pull something like this off, or wants to learn how to do it -- recording the play, audio over the video, setting up the website, etc. These are skills that are useful to know these days.
posted by instead of three wishes at 8:39 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here's the thing about mean internet comments. You know who's posting them? 12.75 year olds.

The only way to help him become a good internet citizen is to let him see it from the other side. Also, because of this tendency, he probably already knows what it is to get into a flame war, to be cut down online, and to cut down others. Protecting him from this only teaches him that it's OK for him to dish it out online (and trust that, as sweet and sensitive as he is, he is almost certainly acting out this way online), but he shouldn't have to take it.

I do an occasional youtube video game livestream, and the vast majority of "negative comments" we get are just preteen drivebys saying "YOU SUCK" (literally, just a couple of words or a stock phrase) and moving on. It's easy to ignore, even if you're a tween with a fragile ego. Especially because, at his age, he will be familiar with the phenomenon already.

Another thing to consider is that, in the vast majority of cases, the real thing that actually happens when you upload a video to youtube is that it doesn't get any comments at all. His videos may be slightly more likely to attract attention, because he'll be part of a subculture that is watching and commenting on a lot of similar videos. But he should probably be more prepared for radio silence than for the kind of negative attention Rebecca Black or The Star Wars Kid got.

If you have real reason to believe that comments on his videos are going to be worse than what any other teenager deals with online, or that he *won't* understand the culture of teens getting into flamewars online (and IMO it would take an autism spectrum disorder or maybe being Amish for this to be the case), I think the best thing to do would have him read some comment threads on the type of videos he wants to upload and seriously consider how he will feel getting comments like this. If, after that, he wants to turn comments off, or if the hater comments start and he doesn't want to see it, turning off comments is always available to him.

And, of course, let him know that the mean haters writing mean shit about him are assholes who are wrong, and that you're on his side. Never do the "I told you so", or suggest that they have a point. Which probably goes without saying, but is the sort of thing my parents would have done, so it needs to be said.
posted by Sara C. at 9:57 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Another positive data point: My son and his friend (now both HS freshmen) did this a few years ago when they were the OP's son's age, with no ill effects or unpleasantness. It started out as a MineCraft commentary channel, but that's passed and now they have their own small troupe of actors and are making small "films" and such, as their schedules permit. It's been a very positive thing. Their channel is still small -- about 150-ish subscribers, mostly friends/classmates, I think -- and (so far?) no abusive comments of any sort.
posted by mosk at 10:03 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

He'll likely get some nastiness coming his way. If he thinks he can deal with it, I would let him try it out.

I would be prepared to make him take a break (a few weeks or a few months) if things go awry somehow. 13 years old is not the best age for managing one's own anger or hurt feelings. Let him know this up front so he doesn't feel punished if it does happen.

It's good that your kid wants to do this. You should be happy about it and, with qualifications, encourage him.
posted by mattu at 11:31 AM on October 22, 2015

A commenter above notes that this is essentially how kids communicate today. Which is true, of course, and speaking practically you'd be a bit naive to think you can police kids' internet savvy (especially over time).

We've got three, the youngest having just turned 14, all of whom have been very internet-active their entire lives. Youngest is a scooter pro (has a sponsor and everything), and his primary group of friends in the scooter universe (1) live globally (2) never meet face to face and (3) all communicate by recording, editing, and sharing videos of their scooter tricks. It's been kind of cool, to be honest, because a big part of their subculture is showing, in video form, the endless practice and failure when developing or mastering tricks.

When I was that age, it was all about skateboarding (which is totally passé to these kids now, FYI) and skate videos. Skate videos were very full of boy braggadocio and injury glamour (which eventually metastasized/commercialized) into programming like Jackass. That way was in no sense "better" than the way these kids interact. They're all better at editing video and music than I am, and as a consequence 14 year old got a job at his high school this term (!!!) editing the school's football games for broadcast on the school news channel. He gets paid $150/week for this (!!!).

Comments and whatnot are a non-issue, it seems. They've never known a universe without social media commentary, and they know the ropes (and deal with weirdness) way better than I do. It's one of those areas in which I'm pretty sure the adults are blowing 99% of the perceived issue out of proportion (weird comments =/= the kids are souping). Maybe give the kid a primer on talking to you if he has concerns or worries and then let him do his thing.

Just keep in mind that you shouldn't have many illusions about kids' wanting privacy from their parents. Perhaps you have a window of a year or two when your kid is happy to have you acting as his personal editor, but it won't last long. By 13 I was very much into making art and journal entries and music that I knew wouldn't be seen as tasteful by my parents. If my parents had even tried to enforce rules like "I'm going to vet everything you do first" or "I get your password," I, uh, would have very easily worked around that. In fact, that would be a clear signal to me to keep my social media actions very secret from my parents instead of feeling like I could approach them with legitimate concerns when those concerns arise, since it would out my activity to them and subject all my private material to parental scrutiny.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:49 AM on October 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Meet Marques Brownlee: What started as basement videos made by a 13-year-old, has turned into a channel with 3 million subscribers. Here he is talking with the Motorola CEO a few years later. Estimated youtube earnings: $60,000–$1,000,000 per year.

Yes there are nasty comments on his early videos, but he won his audience's respect.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:05 PM on October 22, 2015

If you decide to let him do it, here is a AskMe question about the best/cheapest set up for recording them.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 6:08 AM on October 23, 2015

If he watches these videos he's no doubt been reading the comments on these videos. He knows what people are like. It stings when it's directed at you personally but it's not like he's unaware of arsehole comments on youtube, I'm sure. Individual comments can be deleted and he has the option to turn off comments altogether if something gets particularly toxic. With the caveats that others have added above (no personal details) let him go for it. You can keep on eye on what's happening so if things get hairy you're there to discuss it.
posted by h00py at 6:53 AM on October 23, 2015

Maybe dig into his motivation (does he want to get rich, knowing that PewDiePie made ~$7mil last year). I'd definitely encourage him to ignore YT comments and think about his goals.
posted by bendy at 8:15 PM on October 23, 2015

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