The first time I heard about comment ghosting, it was in the form of commentary on Chinese internet censorship, where netizens who posted about Hong Kong’s recent protests on their blogs and social networking sites had their comments hidden from the public without any notification, thus censorship would be achieved without alerting the person who is being censored, and a naive censored person would just think that nobody was interested in discussing the issue and stop talking about it.
Naturally, I shrugged it off: “Oh communist China, how your pathetic attempts at silencing dissent make me laugh.”
But recently, I have found myself to be the victim of comment ghosting. At first, I couldn’t find out why or how my comments were censored. But then I discovered that I wasn’t the only one. Users had reported comments being only visible to themselves despite being set public, some replies to comments had even gotten responses from the original commenter which they couldn’t respond to. I realized I had been comment ghosted, by… that’s right, YOUTUBE.
Here’s how presumably I got myself ghosted: I was watching this debate on religion, and as the video was 2 hours long, I was periodically making comments as I got further through the video, totaling 4 comments and one reply to a comment made by another user. Thing is, the reply I made actually got a response, as I was alerted through the email notification system, and I know the response was directed at me because I was tagged in the first line. So when I clicked the link in the notification email to view the full comment – surprise surprise, no responses were appearing below my reply, contrary to the stream of reply notifications I was getting from youtube.
What did I post to get myself comment ghosted? Here:
Oh no, such spam!
And my reply to another comment?
And the reply directed at me?
How about the view when logged out?
Wait, you mean there’s no comments since August 31st? Bullshit!
Now there are several things I think I can conclude from this.
Firstly, although thread starters may have control over replies, I don’t think I was ghosted by the thread starter since I’m “on her side”, so to speak.
Secondly, I don’t think my account has been flagged, because everything in the account page is good standing and while I do post links and long replies, I stay on topic. Besides, I’m technically a Youtube Partner.
So, that leaves several possibilities:
1. Google, either through malice or incompetence, had made my comments invisible to the world.
2. NDdotEDU the channel hosting the video, had made my comments invisible
3. Through the spam report function, someone had cast invisibility onto my comments the second I posted them.
From the reports of other users, it seems that such comment ghosting is a function of the spam filter, although negative words seem to also be a target of ghosting although perhaps its just the result of making 5 replies over the course of 18 hours (I had to watch the video in segments and breaks so that I would not get a brain tumor from William Lane Craig’s stupidity).
But, here’s why comment ghosting doesn’t work against spam, and why actually notifying the “perpetrator” and offering some form of appeal process is a good thing:
1. Spam accounts are usually throwaway accounts so spammers don’t have any incentive to appeal any bans at all, spending time to build up a “reputable” account and then going through a lengthy appeal process is not worth the time, so can we please note the age and “human activity” of the accounts?
2. Deception is immoral, and automatic comment ghosting + shitty spam filter has great potential to lock out legit comments. Even if you loosen the defences and allow some spam to get through, most will just be ignored and you retain the good will of people like myself who are mistakenly censored.
3. If the spam algorithm is based on frequency of commenting, then the old “you’re commenting too fast” was a good deterrent, Also, spam algorithms based on number of comments need to take into account video length (like in soundcloud), and that the longer a video the more comments an individual will want to make.
4. Censorship is wrong, unless Google is planning itself and youtube’s big return to the loving arms of Chairman Great Firewall. Snagging my comments like the secret police is unprofessional, shady and shows a huge level of disrespect for users. Ever heard of innocent until proven guilty? Don’t be so inhumane terrorist interrogator, at least tell me exactly what you think I did, ok?
5. Contrary to facebook’s no dislike button ideology, negativity is not spam. An agenda to promote freedom of thought means that no one (especially commenters) should be given the kind of power of disabling replies and performing acts of censorship. Any act of censorship needs to be openly logged.
I hope the comment ghosting issue is eventually corrected, unless it is done on purpose.