YouTube moderation bots will start issuing warnings, 24-hour bans

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YouTube has announced a plan to crack down on spam and abusive content in comments and livestream chats. Of course, YouTube will be doing this with bots, which will now have the power to issue timeouts to users and instantly remove comments that are deemed abusive.

YouTube’s post says, “We’ve been working on improving our automated detection systems and machine learning models to identify and remove spam. In fact, we’ve removed over 1.1 billion spammy comments in the first six months of 2022.” It later adds, “We’ve improved our spambot detection to keep bots out of live chats.”

When YouTube removes a message, the company says it will warn the poster that the message has been removed. The company adds, “If a user continues to leave multiple abusive comments, they may receive a timeout and be temporarily unable to comment for up to 24 hours.”

Comment moderation on YouTube often seems like an impossible task, to the point that many pages just turn off comments completely because they don’t want to deal with it. Live chat moderation is especially tough, since even if you spot an offending message quickly after it is posted, the live, scrolling nature of chat means the damage is probably already done.

Bots are a scalable way to tackle this problem, but Google’s history of automated moderation with YouTube and the Play Store is pretty rough. We’ve seen the company mark a horror channel as “for kids” because it included animation. It banned a video player from Google Play because subtitle files use the extension “.ass”—which is also a naughty word. The Play Store regularly bans chat apps, Reddit apps, and podcast apps because, like a browser, they can access user-generated content, and sometimes that content is objectionable.

It does not appear that YouTube is involving channel owners in any of these moderation decisions. Note that the post says YouTube will warn the poster (not the channel owner) of automated content removal and that if users disagree with the automated comment removal, they can “submit feedback” to YouTube. The “submit feedback” link on many Google products is a black hole suggestion box and not any kind of comment moderation queue, so it sounds like there will be no one that responds to a moderation dispute. YouTube says this automatic content moderation will only delete comments that violate the community guidelines—a list of pretty basic content bans—so hopefully it will stick to that.