YouTubeI used to host an online show called Soda Tasting. Though I had a nice website and I interacted with people on various platforms, by and large, my interaction with people occurred on YouTube. And the reputation that YouTube comments have is generally deserving.

That said, the Soda Tasting community of viewers was a utopia and it was that way for two reasons. 1. There are great, cool people out there and some of them were attracted to the show. 2. When someone showed up who was neither great, nor cool, I would delete their comments and sometimes ban them.

Even though I have stopped hosting the show, I still allow comments on YouTube (for the moment) and I still monitor them to ensure that they are respectful, in line with the personality and atmosphere of the show. As always, anything rude or disrespectful is removed.

Until a few nights ago. I saw that there was a new comment and it was the typical trollish type of comment. No big deal, I’ll just delete it.

Wait. I can’t delete it? I can only “mute” it? When I did so, muting it removed it from my screen when I was logged in, but when I was logged out, it was still there. Meaning it was there for all to see and could continue to do damage. That damage takes different forms. Bad comments encourage bad comments. Bad comments drive good participants away. Bad comments encourage how people view your show and your community. “Oh, it’s OK to say that here? I see.” If you want respectful community, you have to fight for it.

I looked and, sure enough, could see no way to delete it. The normal option was gone. As far as I know, I was logged into my channel, into the account that would have access to this functionality. A day later, after receiving a few more inappropriate or vulgar comments, I returned to YouTube to close comments on my videos. And then I saw, I was able to delete comments again.

I’m not sure what happened. I don’t think YouTube actually took away the ability to delete comments on your own channel because that just doesn’t make sense. Maybe it was my fault in some way. Maybe I was logged into a different account, somehow. Maybe it was a bug tied to the Google+ integration with YouTube comments. Whatever it was, it was gone. And I was glad. Because, in that brief period of time where I couldn’t delete comments (or, at least, I think I couldn’t), the community I had built was vulnerable.

It wasn’t such a big deal with this series because I have not hosted it for a while and comments are less frequent than they used to be. At some point, I probably will close the comments on my videos, once they reach a certain age. But I couldn’t help but think what it would have meant for a show I was actively hosting.

If you want a respectful comments section, where people have conversations free of personal attacks, you have to delete comments. Otherwise, you’ll get these nasty comments and a lot of the cool people will be driven away because they don’t want to deal with that noise or be attacked.

Many YouTubers don’t bother, feeling it isn’t worth the investment of time to read and moderate comments. Many YouTubers reach a certain size and decide they can no longer spend the time because it becomes unwieldy. And that is the time when you have many personal attacks in your comments. Many YouTubers simply want as many comments as possible because it leads to their videos getting more views from people coming back to tear each other apart. All of this is OK – if that is what you want.

But if you want respectful community on YouTube, that pursuit dies if you lose the ability to delete comments.