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Intimate stories hidden in YouTube comments | technology



Last year, on Valentine’s Day, Filipino artist Shea Amisola felt particularly “lonely and disconnected,” so she went to an unexpected place to feel more companionship: YouTube. “Every time I click on a YouTube video, I can’t help but scroll down to the comments. I’m browsing alone, but I never feel that way when I’m in the middle of millions of people who found themselves on the same URL as me, some of whom have left their thoughts,” she explains. .

Amisola has been collecting some of these thoughts for three years now: the particularly emotional comments some users leave under the song’s videos. On Valentine’s Day, he decided to give those comments a new home in which the dynamics were shifted: human experiences took center stage. This is how his website thesoundof.love was born, where a few comments left by someone on YouTube are hugely displayed while a song is playing. “It’s mostly love songs that I love; I’ll open the song, play it, transcribe the comments that made me cry, and move on to the next song,” she says via email.

His website, the soundof.love, isn’t the first project born as a way to highlight and maintain those comments in which a user suddenly tells something very personal. Between 2012 and 2015, Canadian screenwriter and writer Mark Slutsky was active on Sad YouTube, a blog hosted on Tumblr in which he posted comments of his choice along with the video of the song he found it in. “I always read the comments people leave on songs. Many of them were almost copycats, ‘typical music just isn’t made like this anymore’, but sometimes very interesting stories came up, people just don’t talk to anything. The comments section is a space to express yourself Almost certainly nobody you know will ever see what you wrote. Like a confession, very public because anyone like me can see it, but at the same time very private,” Slutsky muses on what led him to notice these kinds of comments.

What kind of comments exactly? In one of his favorites, for example, left under a video for The Tornados’ Telstar song, a user named mjchael meneen explains that he was the only witness to a motor racing accident in 1962. “Telstar was playing on the radio from a car when I got close. I felt those Those who died were ascending to heaven on the sound waves of this song, I was 12 at the time. He says part of the commentary. It was the first time he heard that song.

Many of them talk about love and nostalgia, like this one, already in Spanish, left under a video with Spanish subtitles for the song Something Changed by the British band Pulp. “With this song my ex and I got together. This song meant a lot to our relationship, it described our situation, and Jarvis Cocker even seemed to write songs that made for our circumstances and fit just right. We’re not together anymore, but still, it will always be our song,” says user Becky blonde. In some videos and some songs, the comments section almost turns into a group therapy space. Under the song If They Kill Me, by Mexican singer Silvana Estrada, about sexual violence, he recalls more than 2,000 comments from relatives or friends who have been killed or disappeared or dedicates the song “to my 12-year-old self, who didn’t speak.”

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Something personal in an unexpected corner

A few years ago, YouTube’s comments section was as popular as Twitter is now, and that means it’s a place that can be quite hostile. “The Internet can be a very cruel and unforgiving place when strangers talk to each other, but it can also be very nice,” Slutsky said on a video call. “Especially when you share a passion, people can also be very, very nice, and it’s nice to read, even if you don’t share,” he adds. Quoting Rihanna, these comments are like finding love in a hopeless place.

But, what leads us to open up in this way in a place this weird as YouTube? “Leaving comments is a way to reaffirm that we exist, that we visited the site, that we have something to say, and that what appears there challenged us,” says anthropologist and digital culture expert Elisinda Ardiful, professor of art studies. and humanities from the University of Oklahoma. About this kind of emotional comments on YouTube, the expert recalls the song message in a bottle, from the police. “In it, a lonely outcast throws an SOS into a bottle and realizes that he is not alone in his solitude, that there are millions of lonely beings like him, who throw bottles into the sea. YouTube, in this case and after the metaphor, will be one of the beaches where the sea pulls in thousands of bottles.” , as indicated by e-mail.

The peculiarity of YouTube is also, adds Fernando Chica, professor of a master’s degree in digital marketing at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR), that it is not a social network. “It’s a digital space with a social layer: we can comment, we can say whether we like it or not, but as such, we don’t go into YouTube to make friends, regardless of the fact that we sometimes interact with other users,” he explains over the phone.

This is also what Slutsky sees: we don’t access YouTube for the purpose of communication (not Twitter or Facebook). His favorite comments, in fact, are those in which the song seems to have attacked the user and caused an unexpected emotion or memory. “You can’t design a network that evokes the same thing. If you create a space for people to go and share their opinions about music, you’ll have people go in that specifically, with their story in mind, will be less authentic. What I think is interesting about a lot of these comments Is that whoever left it didn’t even know they had those stories. They played the song and suddenly remembered something they hadn’t thought about in a long time. It’s like an ambush that generates a kind of episodic literature,” he says.

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In these little stories that are sometimes lost in the comments of some videos – hidden among the positive or negative evaluations of the song and the classic commentary with lyrics always left by some user with a career of public service – there is also a redemption of space, an attempt at human communication on a platform that belongs to a technology company big. “Most of what we see as ‘the Internet’, especially the social Internet, claims to connect us, but fails to do so. This always happens as a result of over-optimization, of the fact that most of the Internet is ‘public, but privately owned’ and is geared towards profit and use of our data. YouTube’s comments section is a little haven from the company’s machine, albeit a very fragile one. Many of the comments I’ve saved in the past three years have disappeared when videos were taken down due to copyright complaints,” explains Shea Amisola.

This is one of the reasons why Mark Slutsky also transcribes comments: so that these stories won’t be lost when YouTube deletes a video. “YouTube was born in 2005, so it’s a pretty deep archive. But it was never designed to preserve or organize comments. There’s no way to request or download them, so when you delete a video, it’s lost forever,” he explains. Your website is currently full of broken links to videos that no longer exist.

In terms of creating small shelters of community and humanity on private platforms, Amisola points to others who are also creating this space to share feelings and confessions, like hyper-specific groups on Facebook or Twitter feeds that are always chronological and very well defined. However, the video platform is different. The comments section on YouTube is private because there is a contextual focus: the feedback isn’t public, it’s specific to this upload of this version of the song. It also lends itself to anonymity that’s hard to come by on other platforms. This URL; there is nothing more important than our identity, and there are no algorithmic metrics or feeds,” he points out.

Although, technically, YouTube has a feed And an algorithm, Fernando Chica recalls, is different in that the interests of the users prevail more than if something modern. For this reason, even without going to the search engine (which does not work as it should) and letting yourself be guided by what the platform offers, it is possible to access old videos, with comments left years ago by someone who may not have returned to that URL (sometimes saying One of them is “It’s been 3 years, but I hope you’re doing well”). Mark Slutsky, who quit his sad YouTube project because it was taking up too much of his time, still likes to dive in like this and see if he can find those special comments. “Seeking specific songs that are more explicit for that emotional response often makes those comments sound more performed, more elaborate, and less authentic,” he explains. He loves it raw, often written with spelling or grammatical errors that he never corrected when transcribed.

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Chia Amisola, on the other hand, likes not to know how much truth is in commentary and maintains a sense of intimacy. It’s magical to see a comment from POOPINMYBUTT934 [’CACAENMICULO934] About how little love he had twenty years ago, I feel like a part of his life. I don’t know you, but I do know a completely intimate encounter that I chose to share,” he captures.

A few years ago, for an article he wrote in the middle buzzfeed On Sad YouTube, Mark Slutsky was able to contact some of his favorite commentators, including a witness to that car crash in 1962. “It didn’t seem strange to him to get a phone call asking what it was. Sometimes it seemed like they were waiting. their whole lives until someone calls them and tells them to tell that story,” he says. Proof that the message in the bottle has paid off.

Study the causes of the music as a result of the comments

The researchers also noted the specificity of some of these comments, who seek to answer how we feel from music. Studying this is complicated because, when imagining how the brain is activated when listening to a particular song and when trying to conduct interviews, the situation is very detailed and not automatic. Researchers at several British universities are already looking at how YouTube song comments can be used to amplify research on music and emotion. “Listener feedback is closely related to the listening experience and therefore provides a huge amount of rich, factual and accessible data,” they explain in the conference abstract held in 2020. Through analysis methods, both manual and automated (discovering the most used words, eg example, or ignore comments that don’t contribute – like Spam emails-), this information can be contrasted with existing paradigms and extended to the study of emotions and music.

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