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A Lighthouse in a Harbor

I don’t need to tell anyone that things are kind of rough here at the end of 2023. The world feels like it’s on the brink of collapse with wars, famine, people starving and so much more. You can’t turn on the news without some kind of negative story, and even the positive stories seem to spin out of some injustice or bad thing happening. And with the internet permeating every bit of our existence now, it’s nearly impossible to tune it all out.

Even though things seem bleak, it really isn’t as bad as it seems, and the truth is none of us individually have any control over where the world is headed. This is something that took me a while to figure out, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize the world is gonna do its thing and I’ve just gotta buckle up and go along for the ride. But even though I can’t change the world, I refuse to let it change me.

A photo of my wife and I sitting in a sled in one of the buildings at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
My wife and I hanging out at the Columbus Zoo during their 2023 Wildlights celebration.

I recently hit 1,000 subscribers on YouTube. This was a huge milestone for me personally and I still haven’t fully embraced it. It’s been something I’ve dreamed about since I started making videos on YouTube on a consistent basis in 2021, and it lets me know I’m going in the right direction. But this milestone also has some twists.

One of the driving forces behind what I’ve done on my channel over the years has been positivity. No matter the subject, no matter the style or kind of video I’ve done, I’ve tried to present a positive face to the world. This hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve not always been perfect at it, but I feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job over the past couple of years.

The reason I’ve focused on this aspect is two-fold. For one thing, it’s just who I am. I try to see the good in people and the world wherever possible, and I want the world to be a better place for my kids and potential grandkids in the future. Trying to help people, educate people and shine a light in a dark place is my way of accomplishing this.

Aside from that, I want to give back for the blessings I’ve had in my life. Things haven’t always been great, but I’ve been extremely lucky in a lot of ways and I want to try and pay some of that forward.

Now we get to the twist I mentioned above.

Over the years I’ve had one or two negative comments on my videos, but for the most part the comments have always been pretty good. The volume of good comments has gone up a lot over the past few weeks, and especially since I hit the 1K subscriber club, but I’ve also seen a marked increase in bad comments.

Now, this isn’t unexpected. As you get more attention in a public forum like YouTube, you’re going to see more negative stuff. It kind of goes hand in hand with what I mentioned before about the world seeming like such a bad place these days, but it also got me thinking.

Who exactly is making these comments? What kind of person sees a video of someone playing a video game, just being happy and laughing, and feels the need to say things like “You’re fat and ugly” or just generally demean them?

While some of the commenters may be adults, my guess is that most of them are under 18, maybe under 13, and lack any kind of parental guidance in their life. They may also be experiencing bullying themselves in school or elsewhere, and they think it is normal or OK to talk to people online, where they can remain safely anonymous behind their keyboard.

But it isn’t the comments towards me that bother me. I can easily hide or report these kinds of things and no one else ever sees them. Part of this is because YouTube, for all its faults, does an alright job of catching these comments in their filters and holding them for review. I see them, take in the context and decide if they belong on my channel, or even the platform, and act accordingly. What does bother me, however, is that these people are probably commenting on more than just my videos, and I doubt they get any nicer.

What about the person who is not in a good place mentally? Maybe someone who has been struggling is posting videos to YouTube as an outlet, and a negative comment was all they needed to push them over the edge. How many potentially great creators have we lost because one person decided to leave a comment calling them fat or ugly, or maybe went further and insinuated the world would be better without them in it?

As someone who has struggled with mental health issues personally, I can tell you that comments like that at the wrong time in my life would’ve driven me to end it all. I wasn’t on YouTube at that time in my life, and it wasn’t nearly as big as it is now.

I’ve heard it argued that you need thick skin to be a content creator, and I’ve even heard others say you shouldn’t be making videos or creating content if you can’t take the hate comments. The general advice is to just ignore it, remove the comments when they pop up and move on. That advice is typically coming from people who’ve never struggled with anxiety or depression and isn’t how we should be approaching the situation. It comes off as blaming the victim. Not being able to create when you feel the call to do so is almost worse than any hate comment, and how is it right to tell someone they should hide away from the world?

So, what is the solution?

For one thing, YouTube needs to implement a better content moderation system, based around AI that will allow better reading of the context of comments, filtering them out before them make it anywhere. Their current system, at least so far in my experience, catches a lot of things, but then the creator has to decide what to do with the comments.

While you can’t remove all the negativity from the world, you can send a message that it isn’t acceptable. Often, the people who seem to be arguing against this kind of “censorship” are only doing so because they rely on the negativity as a source of income.

YouTube commentary channels are notorious for doing this, as they thrive on drama and negativity. Many of them even went wild when YouTube removed the counter on the “dislike” button because they would no longer be able to use that as a metric to throw their hate at videos with a high dislike ratio.

Something we can all do, in addition to platforms taking further steps, is to start focusing on positive content. Unfollow those “news” sources that thrive on getting clicks, don’t share that article that made you angry, maybe even take some time to go outside and turn off your tech for a while.

One thing that has helped me immensely, especially since Covid hit, was to tune out. I stopped using Facebook on a personal level with very few exceptions, I try to focus on social media only where it concerns my business and my writing, and I spent a lot more time hiking and going outside, completely ignoring anything except texts from my wife and kids when doing so.

There’s no one right solution to the problems we face now, and things aren’t going to get any easier as we get into 2024. Individually, we can’t do much outside of making sure the world doesn’t change us for the worse. Collectively, we can work together to build a better future and be a lighthouse in a harbor.

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