By David Becker
When researching a topic for your paper or manuscript, you may come across a few relevant YouTube videos—perhaps a TED Talk or two—that you would like to cite. Being the intrepid explorer of the Internet that you are, you may even brave those videos’ comment threads, desperately searching for some faint glint of rational discourse hidden within the dark, troll-infested depths. Or maybe you’re intentionally seeking out vile and offensive comments if you are writing about the psychology of Internet trolls. Whatever your reasons, you have found a YouTube comment that you would like to cite, but you don’t know how.
Some of the same principles for citing a blog comment also apply to citing a YouTube comment. For instance, list the commenter’s user name if their real name isn’t listed and add “Re:” followed by a space before the title of the video. Also, as with some blog comments, clicking on a YouTube comment’s time stamp will lead to a page with a unique URL that features that comment at the top of the comment thread. Include this unique URL in the “Retrieved from” portion of your reference.
There are, however, some important differences between citing blog comments and YouTube comments that are worth noting. Let’s first look at the publication date.
As with citing a blog comment, cite the date that the YouTube comment was posted, not the date that the video was uploaded. YouTube comments present a somewhat unique challenge in that they do not display precise publication dates. Rather, they indicate how long ago a comment was posted (e.g., “3 hours ago,” “2 weeks ago,” “10 months ago,” “4 years ago,” etc.). With such imprecision, there’s no sense in citing a day or a month, as you would do when citing a blog comment, so just cite the publication year.
The year that the comment was posted is easy to figure out using simple math. However, in the unlikely situation where there might be some ambiguity about what year a comment was posted, you can include “ca.” for circa after the publication date, much like when citing approximate dates for social media sources. This should be done as sparingly as possible.
Another difference between citing a YouTube comment and a blog comment is the formatting of the title. Whereas the title of a blog post is not italicized, the title of a video is italicized. However, the “Re:” is technically not part of the video title and therefore is not italicized.
Taking all this into consideration, here is a sample reference to a YouTube comment:
49metal. (2016). Re: Are you dating a psychopath? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP5HIjA9hh4&lc=z13bu5ghznaawh0ez23ajz0gnquidx1z004
And here is a sample text citation for that comment:
Some do not see the value in these sorts of informal, self-diagnosis measures: “This invitation for lay people to diagnose a rare psychological disorder… is profoundly irresponsible” (49metal, 2016).
Keep in mind the reliability of your source within the context your paper’s topic when deciding what to cite. A random comment from an unidentified YouTube user, such as the one above, is likely not appropriate in a research paper that coalesces expert opinions on a scholarly topic. However, this type of informal source could be more appropriate in a different kind of paper, such as one about how people interact with each other on social media.