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YouTube’s family vloggers worry about their future amid comment section crackdown

Without comments, YouTube is just ‘short films’

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Jon and Danielle Murray, who started vlogging about their family life with six daughters almost four years ago, are debating whether they should abandon YouTube entirely. Policy changes on the platform mean their videos’ comment sections have been shut down. Only a handful of family vlogging channels will be allowed to keep their comments section open — and the Murrays aren’t included.

Most people might think of YouTube’s comment section as nothing more than a haven for trolls, but for YouTubers comments are a way to communicate with viewers, Jon and Danielle told The Verge. People watch YouTube to engage with creators and other fans. But YouTube has removed comments from the majority of videos featuring minors, in an attempt to combat predatory behavior. Most affected videos belong to family vloggers like the Murrays — a popular genre of videos about living with kids.

“We built this relationship with our subscribers, you know,” Danielle told The Verge in a phone call. “We just picked up a bunch of mail from our P.O. box, gifts that people send us, cards, and all kinds of stuff ... it really feels like people you know.”

Comment sections are a way for viewers to shout out their favorite moments, thank creators for a video, or even express their frustration with a particular scene. Not having access to comments hurts the relationship between creators and viewers, Danielle said. Both she and Jon have spoken to other family vloggers, and discovered their frustrations are shared by many within the community.

“We’ve never had any issues with our comments,” Danielle said, adding they already use filters to prevent certain words from appearing. “Even when we have ones that get flagged for review, they’re never extreme.”

Many creators have called the change defeating. Danielle and Jon feel like they’ve been left completely in the dark about what’s happening, and they’re not alone. Kevin Chapman, a popular British YouTuber who found success using his secondary channel as a family vlog, was driving toward a vacation spot for a weekend away when his phone started vibrating nonstop. He was receiving emails from people concerned they couldn’t comment on his video, and he had no idea why. Like the Murrays, Chapman treats his comment section as a way to keep up with his community — an integral part of YouTube presence.

“If we don’t have comments, we’re no different from the TV,” Chapman said. “And it’s so important that we’re different from the TV because that’s why people like us. Anyone can talk to their favorite YouTuber. But if you take that away, if you take away that connection between the creator and the viewer, than we’re just making short films — and nobody watches short films.”

So at the beginning of his family trip, Chapman found himself ignoring his family to try to get ahold of his representative at YouTube. He’s one of a group of YouTubers who have representatives at the company’s designated Creators team. The reps are a line of direct communication from creators to the company. Chapman has cultivated a relationship with his rep and the Creators team over the years — even dining with some of them at a YouTube convention in London. Even though he had a direct line to YouTube, he was still worried about the increased level of moderation YouTube was asking for. Very few creators can engage in full-time moderation. It’s far too expensive and time-consuming.

“It isn’t realistic unless you can afford a bunch of assistance to check every comment as they come in,” Chapman said. “We kind of police them periodically, but we can’t check them as they’re coming in — not every single one.”

Most creators don’t have a YouTube rep; according to Chapman, those who do have been able to turn their comments back on. An option appears on their backend to confirm enabling comments with stricter moderation imposed. Chapman’s comment section is back, but it’s unclear if it’ll remain that way. The Verge confirmed that comment sections will continue to close over the next few months, meaning channels and videos which aren’t affected now may see their comments close soon.

“If we don’t have comments, we’re no different from the TV.”

Because most YouTubers don’t have a line of direct communication with the company, rumors abound. Chapman and the Murrays mentioned they’ve heard that videos with minors will be completely demonetized, meaning ads won’t run on those videos. And some creators fear that if comments are disabled, the videos won’t show up as readily on search — which means fewer people will see the videos.

Danielle and Jon don’t have a rep at YouTube that they work with, despite being on the platform for years. They used to work with a multi-channel network, a networking bridge between YouTube’s team and an independent creator, but ended their relationship last year. Now it’s just them — and they haven’t been able to get in contact with YouTube about their comments section.

“It’s just poor communication from YouTube,” Danielle said. “If they had spent the last year that they’ve known about this problem trying to solve it, they could have come up with better ways to kind of handle it — versus waiting until their advertisers pulled out.”

YouTube confirmed to The Verge that comments being disabled on a video does not harm that video or channel’s search and discovery, and that the company has no plans to demonetize videos just for featuring kids. But the company didn’t say this directly in its announcement. That’s what scares creators like the Murrays and Chapman — and numerous other creators who have uploaded video confessionals of their own anxieties to YouTube in the past week. It’s led to creators looking elsewhere, like Facebook, to continue building their vlogging empire.

“YouTube is just one of many revenue streams,” Melissa told The Verge. “It’s one of many. Video creation is our main passion, but the revenue comes from many platforms. YouTube isn’t the only site we can use.”