For a while now I’ve found the trite complaint of a closed YouTube comment section to be vapid. (Equally so the stale honor or praise of leaving it open.) But just today I took another step in my understanding of the issue.
When a comment section is closed, to a YouTube user, it feels like their only method of communication (or complaining, harassing, etc.) with the YouTuber has gone. That’s in part why it’s perceived as valuable. It’s the habitat they’re used to; it’s what they see as the clearest, most direct form of feedback.
And to a certain extent it certainly is. My Pavlovian response to a YouTube video ending is to scroll down. This is something I fight, because in the vast majority of comment sections, there is nothing of value below. It’s still the most immediate place to see responses, though.
YouTube comments for a long time have been treated as this “standard discussion forum” across the Internet, available around most videos online, when in fact its evidentiary purpose is for hurling shit and making jokes so lazy they’d make Reddit cringe. The comment box is ubiquitous on the Internet Locus For Viewing Moving Pictures, so it makes sense that it became the collective dumping ground. To see a space carved out to not be made messy (by closing comments) seems counter to the entirety of YouTube culture. PewDiePie crossed that line and quickly went back.
This YouTube culture is the same one that would bring the phrase “free speech” into the equation, even though YouTube is a company that can do whatever it wants with your comments, and comments are on another person’s channel who has full right to delete them or ban people for any reason. Comment spaces are only as free as its owner allows them to be, and they don’t Hate Freedom if they choose to curate more closely or close them altogether.