Women Making Science Videos on YouTube Face Hostile Comments

After studying 23,005 comments left on videos about science and related topics, a researcher says, “I could see why people would not want to be on YouTube.”

A screen grab of Emily Graslie’s channel, The Brain Scoop, from a recent episode about skunk dissection.Creditvia YouTube

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are popular topics on YouTube. Some channels that stream videos on these subjects have millions of subscribers. Most are hosted by men.

“There is a lot of discussion about YouTube being an unpleasant environment for female creators,” said Inoaka Amarasekara, an Australian researcher in science communication. “I wanted to see if that affected science communication on YouTube, and if that was something I could corroborate.”

In fact it was.

“She so ugly I almost threw up. Ew.”

“I was just staring at your bbbooo…..i mean eyes.”

“Go back to the kitchen and make me double stack sandwich.”

These are some of the 23,005 YouTube comments that form the basis of a new paper by Ms. Amarasekara and Will Grant, a lecturer at Australian National University, published last week in the journal Public Understanding of Science. They found a tough environment for women who create YouTube videos centered on science, drawing both more comments per view than men and also a higher proportion of critical comments as well as remarks about their appearances.

“The comment space for women on YouTube seems to be more volatile, both positive and negative,” Dr. Grant said.

Ms. Amarasekara didn’t feel confident that an automated sentiment analysis could capture the meaning of the comments, so she manually sorted each of the thousands of comments into one of six categories: positive; negative or critical; hostile; sexist or sexual; appearance-based; and neutral or general discussion. Of course, that meant she had to read them all.

“I was quite disappointed by the time I’d gone through them,” she said. “I could see why people would not want to be on YouTube.”

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The researchers found that about 14 percent of comments for female on-camera hosts were critical, compared to about six percent for male hosts.

They also found female hosts got a much larger proportion of comments about appearance (4.5 percent for women versus 1.4 percent for men) and comments that were sexist or sexual (nearly three percent of comments for women versus about a quarter-percent for men).