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When remix culture gets ugly: in American Behavioral Scientist, Alice Marwick, Becca Lewis, and Will Partin dig into YouTube’s tradition of “response videos” and how they drive harassment campaigns.

In their work, Dr. Marwick and her co-authors review the cycle of response-and-harassment as it plays out on YouTube. By selectively clipping from other creators’ videos and engaging with them in a pseudo-debate format, response videos create the illusion of a deeper discourse. Through deceptive framing, these responses stoke outrage in their viewers, while the use of ad hominem attacks provides those viewers the fodder to use against the target. In identifying targets for this outrage and amplifying their work within a hostile audience, these response videos trigger waves of networked harassment where audience members collectively heap abuse or threats on the designated target.

The researchers describe how YouTube’s design allows for this harassment. Its support for links in video descriptions, allows response video creators to link back to their targets, while up- and down-voting and comments offer audiences the opportunity to express their anger and scorn against the targeted creator. At the same time, YouTube’s community guidelines are unevenly enforced in ways that may “miss the forest for the trees” with videos that do not explicitly direct audiences to harass but nonetheless incite harassment.

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