I vow to break out of my shameful little smut spiral. Shopping for inspiration, I find "Hahaha," 1 minute and 40 seconds of a baby laughing like crazy. The tiny giggles are an instant mood-lifter; with more than 23 million views, this is one of the most-watched YouTube videos.
When another video shows up as related content -- this one with the commonly used title "Baby Laughing" -- I'm intrigued and instantly click on it. To my surprise, it turns out to be a hateful white supremacist tirade, directed against golf star Tiger Woods and his family, blaming multiracial marriage for the demise of genetic purity. If I was so innocently led astray by this domino effect of "related" videos, I can only imagine what a curious teenager could find -- especially if he were intentionally seeking it out.
Besides giving the video a name similar to that of the popular baby clip, the white supremacist filmmaker also used another YouTube manipulation: not allowing new posts. A dozen old comments praise the rant, making a casual viewer think the world is full of bigots, but a more careful examination reveals that the person who originally uploaded the video changed the settings so no one -- including dissenters -- can make new remarks. Experts say it's these comments that render YouTube toxic; they can be out of context and can give the impression that hatred is pervasive and acceptable.
Even more cruel are the comments aimed at kids who post their own videos: "Why don't you die?" and "Do us all a favor and kill yourself right now" are common. Videos uploaded by girls also are met with vicious and misogynistic responses, like "Fat cow" and "Shut up and take your shirt off." Although the notes are fired off in the relative anonymity of cyberspace, they can still hurt. "There are horrible, vile threats that are angry enough to frighten adults, not to mention 10-year-olds," says Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and executive director of wiredsafety.org, a nonprofit organization aimed at protecting kids from online abuses. "The threats may be empty -- for the most part, people who post aren't identified by real names -- but they're still sickening."YouTube Responds