When Cheerios posted an ad to YouTube in May featuring an interracial couple, the comments section—as it so often does on Google’s (GOOG) video-sharing website—erupted with bile. Racist bile, in this case. This caused a stir, even though it’s nearly impossible to be surprised by ugly comments on YouTube. You could post a video about cabinet repair and draw dozens of foul-mouthed segregationists out of the woodwork.
The episode gave General Mills (GIS) the chance to stand up to the backlash and earn a round of good will from everyone who abhors racism, so it makes sense that the company would make a Super Bowl spot featuring the same interracial family. It’s already up on YouTube and it’s adorable. And the comments section isn’t a cesspool of hatred.
A spokesman for General Mills says that the company has employees monitoring the comments to keep everything family friendly, and he says he doesn’t know what proportion of the comments have been blocked or removed. The screeners are letting through some civil discussion of sensitive issues. Several commenters complain that biracial couples on television always consist of a black man and a white woman, and there’s even a comment or two sprinkled in from those opposed to genetically modified food. For the most part, the comments consist of such harmless topics as the wisdom of acquiring a new puppy during pregnancy or self-congratulatory proclamations from people who are really unoffended by interracial relationships.
Google knows about the dangers of the comments section. Late last year it changed the way comments work on YouTube, giving greater priority to comments from people connected to the viewer or from reputable commenters in general. Many other websites with comments have taken a similar tack to keep hate-mongers from ruining everything. YouTube also offers greater control to video creators, according to Google spokesman Matt McLernon, allowing the designation of certain trigger words that, when included in a comment, require manual approval. “This isn’t just the Cheerios ad by any means, it’s all comments now,” McLernon says.
Not that this has managed to stamp out controversy. The official Twitter (TWTR) feed of cable news channel MSNBC (CMCSA) this week posted a message that read: “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/biracial family.” Republicans took offense, the tweet was removed, and the network apologized and said it had fired the employee responsible for posting it.