Trolls, Sexism and Girls on YouTube

(This blog post is extremely overdue, but unfortunately I managed to forget the golden rule of writing anything on a computer ever, which is ‘Save your work frequently!’ Thankfully I was able to remember most of what I’d originally written.)

This idea came about during an in-class discussion of what is and isn’t appropriate to put on YouTube, based on how it will spread and who sees it. I mentioned that I was hesitant to create a video for the cello piece I had created for our course Spreadable Media Project because I was scared about the sexist comments it might receive. This led me to think, why am I so convinced that a video of a girl playing the cello will attract inappropriate comments?

There has been much written about the inherent sexism of the Internet. In recent months much has been written about the case of Anita Sarkeeisian, a feminist and pop culture blogger. In 2011 Sarkeeisian decided to make a short documentary exploring negative stereotypes of woman in video games. while this project received immense support, it also attracted some ugly criticism, culminating in death threats.

Elsewhere, academic papers have been written on the subject, such as Danielle Keats Citron’s work ‘Law’s Expressive Value in Combating Cyber Gender Harassment‘, in which she explores whether harassment of bullying of women online is trivialised as

‘…harmless teasing that women should expect, and tolerate, given the internet’s Wild West norms of behaviour’*

Is this just a vocal minority of Internet users, driven by the Internet’s free speech policies to try and be more shocking, or is there an institution of online misogyny?

Studies into online culture done in the late 90s and early 00s indicates that this was so, it often ascribed it to the online male majority- computers were still very much seen as a masculine persist, especially online gaming, driven by aggressive marketing towards teen males. Most of these studies, such as those described in Communities in Cyberspace**, assumed that this attitude would decrease over time as more women moved onto the Internet.

In his book Andrew Calcutt introduced the concept of the ‘Cyberjock’, a culture of young men who in some way feel threatened by sexual equality elsewhere in the world, and try to make up for it by being overly masculine online, where there are no restraints to such behaviour. In his words:

‘Cyberjocks are clinging to an exaggerated idea of how ‘real men’ used to be’***

Calcutt was writing in the late nineties, but again this is a culture that seems to have persisted in places such as Reddit and 4Chan, since under the aforementioned ‘Wild West Culture’ they contain popular sections devoted to commentary that would be inappropriate elsewhere.

However, looking at the videos of famous female YouTube musicians such as Lindsey Stirling, I was surprised to discover that most of the comments related to her playing rather than appearance. Even looking at similar videos by unknown musicians, the comments was related to their music, and on the whole were kind and positive too.

So perhaps stereotype of the leering Internet troll not as present, at least on YouTube as the media might have us believe? YouTube has a fairly open policy on the comments people can make. It may well be that I am looking at the wrong videos, or at least, the kind of videos that they aren’t interested in ‘trolling’. Popular female video blogger channels such as Jenna Marbles receive noticeably more ‘trolling’ comments, although she is always staunchly defended by other users. It would also be interesting to see whether general behaviour in YouTube comments has improved since Google started asking new users in sign up with their real names.


A video by Vlogger Jenna Marbles. Searching through it’s comments section I found a number of comments suggesting that her appearance was the thing that made her popular, rather than her actual video content.

*P. 1, Citron Keats, D., Law’s Expressive Value in Combating Cyber Gender Harassment (Michigan Law Review, Vol. 108, p. 373 – 2009; U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-11) (Accessed 26th November 2012)

** Kollock, P., & Smith, M.A., (Ed.) Communities in Cyberspace (Routledge, London, 1999)

***P. 17, Calcutt, A., White Noise: An A-Z of the Contradictions in Cyberspace(Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 1998)

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2 thoughts on “Trolls, Sexism and Girls on YouTube

  1. Pingback: Google+ and YouTube Merge creates Problems in the YT Community | Digital Culture, Audio Attempts
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