The Herp Derp Web Extension is a browser plug-in that aims to make YouTube comments palatable by making them read “herp derp.” The world needs such a function, as conventional wisdom would have it, because YouTube comments are the scum of the Internet, a repository of "everything that is terrible about humanity." But is that a reason to censor them?
Herp Derp is getting rave reviews. As one user put it in the Chrome store yesterday, it's “the best browser plugin ever created.”
Perhaps Tanner Stokes, the creator of the extension, is just having a laugh, as are the reviewers. But signs point to their being all too serious. Here's Stokes' list of comments that deserve the herp derp treatment: “FIRST,” “omg justin bieber,” “lol FAKE” and “your dumb.”
OK, they're not Shakespeare. But people were writing “FIRST” as an Internet comment long before YouTube existed. “FIRST” is an Internet comment staple and an Internet culture mystery that various media outlets, like Buzzfeed, have been trying to solve for years. So why would Stokes call it out as a problem with YouTube?
As for people who write “lol FAKE,” they're clearly going to the trouble of questioning what they're watching. Remember folks, you can’t trust everything you see on the Internet.
The comment “your dumb” is not particularly offensive - unless bad grammar ruins your day - nor is it characteristic of YouTube at large. Questioning someone’s intelligence is, I hate to break it to Stokes, common on various Web platforms, be they social networks or news sites.
Similarly, “omg justin bieber” isn’t inherently a YouTube phenomenon, though the 18-year-old megastar did get his start on the site. By expressing his desire to censor this comment, Stokes admits that he watches videos with Bieber in them. How else would he know? Rabid fan girls don’t write “omg justin bieber” on videos that don’t include the singer. Just sayin’.
The trolls who so trouble Stokes come out to play around trending videos or clips picked up by mainstream media. Thus the Herp Derp plug-in's core user base consists of people whose YouTube habits don’t extend beyond the latest viral video. Herp Derp users likely don't visit YouTube to educate themselves or engage with the community. They don't visit the YouTube channel of the White House, Reuters, TED Talks, a premium content channel, a YouTube celebrity or tutorials on DIY projects. If they did, they wouldn't find themselves mired in comment threads running amok to the point where they need to be censored.
No YouTuber worth his or her salt (i.e., the hundreds now making at least six figures a year in a YouTube career, and the hundreds of thousands who want to make YouTube their career) would ever use the Herp Derp extension. In fact, they rely on comments from their fan base to run their business. Many of them say that the instantaneous feedback they receive through comments is incredibly helpful, and that - surprise! - intellectually satisfying conversations often emerge.
If it's fun to censor YouTube comments, why not those at Huffington Post, Boing Boing, Yahoo or Fox News? Trolls are everywhere. They're not confined to YouTube. Free speech is a fundamental Internet value, and YouTube is an important Internet community. Censoring YouTube comments undermines Internet culture as a whole.