Approximately one year ago, I wrote an article regarding the many problems that YouTube was facing at the time. It was a list that was born out of not only what I had seen happening on the platform, but a little bit of frustration from myself. I tried doing YouTube as a career myself at the time, after working as a Software Engineer for around six years. Needless to say, I’m back in that industry, and it may have been the best thing for me in the end. Because if YouTube was burning a year ago, it’s erupted into an inferno over the last 12 months. It seems that a variety of sources have poured gasoline on the fire, whether it be the mainstream media, Google, or the creators unknowingly doing it to themselves. The reputation of the platform that puts “creators first” is in shambles right now, and I don’t see it getting better any time soon, especially with the recent decisions they seem to be making.
So why exactly is YouTube in such a bad place right now? Why is it that creators are upset left and right, and advertisers seem to be hesitant to work with the platform? Well, as you’re about to find out, there’s a variety of reasons. But the first one is one that YouTube has had since the beginning.
The Definition of Insanity
“Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is? Insanity is doing the exact… same fucking thing… over and over again expecting… shit to change… That. Is. Crazy. The first time somebody told me that, I dunno, I thought they were bullshitting me, so, I shot him. The thing is… He was right.” —Vaas Montenegro, Farcry 3
I know it’s an over-used quote from the gaming world, but Vaas from Farcry 3 puts this point into perspective way too well.
One of the most common complaints that I’ve seen from YouTube creators over the last five years has been one simple issue: communication. That’s regardless of whether it’s a complete change to the algorithm of how videos are monetized or even to a feature that has been present for several years in YouTube’s Restricted Mode. YouTube is one of the worst organizations when it comes to communicating changes to their creators and giving reasonable and actionable answers to their creators. Time and time again, creators have asked YouTube to communicate more, to tell them what’s going on, and to be more transparent with what they are doing regarding the platform. Many of those creators are making reasonable requests, simple things like giving them a heads up when a core feature is going to change. These are things that creators use on a daily basis, and any new change could easily mess up their process. If I came into your office and took away your stapler, telling you that you couldn’t use it anymore, you’d probably be pissed. You’d find a way around it of course, but you’d wonder why I took away your stapler.
So, with all that feedback over the past several years, you’d think that Alphabet, aka Google, would finally realize that maybe, just maybe, they should put a lot more resources into beefing up their communication. I mean, on a platform that no one seems to agree on anything, it seems to be the one thing almost every creators agrees on, whether it be Philip DeFranco or a small YouTuber like myself. Surely they’ve done something to fix this right? They wouldn’t just completely ignore this issue as a whole … right? Right?!?
Would I have started this section with Vaas if that were truly the case?
One of the reasons that I did this follow up to my original article was the recent revelation by NerdCubed on July 29th, 2017. Before you ask, yes, I know the articles late, there’s a lot of information to go through alright.
While I don’t watch his content daily, every now and again I watch a few of his videos and get a true laugh out of them, along with finding a game that I overlooked that I really enjoy. The quality of his content shows with his 2.5 million subscribers. He’s got some great insight about game design at times without getting too technical. He’s actually someone I recommend to people who want to know more about game design but don’t know anything about technical elements. That’s because he’s one of the best in talking about it in “simple” terms that people can relate to and still understand the core design elements behind it.
But after being a consistent force on the platform over the last several years, NerdCubed is taking an extended leave from YouTube, as he highlighted in one of his recent videos:
Now, YouTubers taking a break from content and dealing with the issues of the platform aren’t uncommon. In fact, almost every large YouTuber I’ve seen goes through a period where they just need a break to reset themselves and to deal with the stress of making content on a regular basis. But for NerdCubed, he puts a lot of the blame for his absence on YouTube themselves. Given what he shows in the video, I have to agree with him for the most part.
NerdCubed says that he loves making videos, he loves the process of making them, and loves delivering content to people. But, he’s tired of working with YouTube: going on to say that they are absolutely dreadful to work with. He not only indicates the stress that the channel puts him under, but he specifically points to the biggest issue being that YouTube does not communicate ANYTHING when it comes to their creators.
He cites examples like the changes to algorithms, fighting such simple things as what videos appear in a person’s sub boxes. That you had to adapt to those changes, and YouTube didn’t even make a peep on when those changes came into play. He cites things like a recent video, which had 270,00 views and earned 22 dollars, and he has no idea why the video performed so poorly. The video was monetized, it never was off monetization, and yet the video was one of the worst performing videos he’s seen in a while. In contrast, he points out his experience with Twitch: how they actually communicate changes on the site with their creators and actually seem to want to help them to succeed. Even simple things that may seem like small beans in comparison, like what the main header link will send you TO when you’re in Video Manager, YouTube changes them with no communication. Twitch on the other hand seems to be up front with those changes, giving you an idea what to expect.
You can hear the stress that YouTube has put on NerdCubed very clearly and how it’s messed with his mental health. It’s painful to listen to. Luckily for NerdCubed, he seemed to have a support system that allowed him to realize these problems before they got out of control.
As a YouTube creator myself, I can relate with NerdCubed. Even when directly dealing with YouTube, the lack of communication with issues you have always comes into play when you’re doing videos. For example, my channel was suspended around a year ago for … well reasons that I still don’t fully understand. The “official” reason that I was given at the time was spam. On a video that had 37 views. In fact, it was a video indicating that I had a written review on TechRaptor for Adventures of Pip.
Let me repeat though: the video had 37 views. Now, I’m not sure what the definition of spam is … but I’m pretty sure it’s got to be over 37 views. Now in the email I got it indicating that if the main purpose of the content is to drive traffic off YouTube to another site, that it would be considered spam. Here’s the thing: that Adventure of Pip review? It was a video review. Available on, you guessed it, YouTube. I was doing video content for TechRaptor at the time that video came out, and I found that was a good way to share the audience between my channel and TechRaptor, and vice versa. The article link I gave had the embedded YouTube video in it, and I also pointed to the video review in the description directly. So I’m pretty sure I was pointing to another channel that I was working with and doesn’t fall into their system’s definition of spam.
In addition, considering the video was a YEAR OLD at the time, it made absolutely no sense. So, I appealed it, and hoped to get answers for why I was suspended. Maybe it was a glitch in the system. Maybe it was something that just was broken. Maybe I could find a way to get this issue quickly fixed if it ever happened again or help someone else who runs into these issues. Hopefully, I could get something positive out of a situation that made me break promises, as I couldn’t get review videos up at the time for Livelock’s launch. Which yeah, it sucks that I lost out on some significant views there, but I’m more pissed that I couldn’t keep my promise to the developers to have a review up at the launch of their game.
My channel was reinstated 3 days later, and I never got my explanation on what I did wrong. In fact, they avoided answering the question entirely. So I have no idea what actually happened with the channel: did someone report me for SPAM? Did the system glitch? Did I somehow do something wrong, despite the fact that I hadn’t touched that video in over a year or never spammed with it? I have no clue, and this is why YouTube’s lack of communication is appalling. As a creator, all I can assume is that my channel can be ripped from my hands at any time, and I’m at the mercy of YouTube if I want to get it back. Even if I didn’t do anything wrong. Even if I followed all their rules. It could happen again, and I could be waiting on YouTube again.
That’s the thing: part of the major panic that happens on YouTube is the fact that you have LITTLE information to work with at times. You’re going to have to fill in the gaps, and who knows what information is out there to help you that’s actually real. What compounds this is that the only time that YouTube seems to actually respond to an issue is if the entire world seemingly has their eyes on it. Only then will YouTube actually say something publicly, along with a possible resolution to an issue. The problem with that is simple: it pushes creators to make even the smallest issue a big deal, because they know that’s the only way that YouTube will possibly respond and get this issue fixed. This “Chicken Little” attitude means that facts may be distorted; key information may be left out of the issue so that it looks worse thathn it may actually be. Which sucks because if there is an actual implementation issue with YouTube, the software engineers attempting to fix it now have misleading data. Meaning the wrong fix could be put into place and could make the situation even worse
But, I’m obviously biased here considering I’m a YouTuber myself, and I’ve faced the huge problem of not getting the information regarding my channel. Let’s look at another example of YouTube’s crappy communication: a YouTuber named Yammy. She’s a gaming YouTuber with over a million subscribers, and I would classify her content as child friendly myself. She’s done content like a 100 baby challenge in The Sims, and from the few videos I’ve watched, I wouldn’t call anything she does controversial or advertiser unfriendly. Especially in the landscape of YouTube. I mean, remember, we had a series of Pregnant Elsa and Spiderman being labelled “kid-friendly” for a while.
Here’s the problem, though: despite the thought that Yammy seems to be a role model of advertiser friendly, that’s not what YouTube is saying, at least to Yammy and her channel.
Even though we removed your ads, we don't know why we removed your ads, but we told you it's because your video isn't aimed at a 5yr old. pic.twitter.com/lynyvlagHy
— Yammy ? (@yammy_xox) August 12, 2017
This is where things get difficult from my perspective, as I’m already predisposed to believe negative statements against YouTube. Considering what I experienced over the past three years on YouTube, this is what I would expect from them, even if I don’t have the direct evidence to fully support what Yammy has said in this chain. Let me make this clear: this may not be the whole story, and there may be context missing from what Yammy has shared to the world. I did reach out to Yammy in an attempt to get the whole e-mail chain, just to see if there was any context left out with the posts that she made on social media. As of the publishing of this article, she hasn’t responded to my queries.
Regardless of that, this response by YouTube is ridiculous. Look, I get that YouTube can’t give any specific detail about their algorithm. I’ve seen creators say that they should give every detail of the algorithm and be open with how videos get monetized and ads get placed. I don’t think that’s reasonable. There are certain elements of an algorithm that are proprietary to the organization that’s putting them in. You don’t give away trade secrets; that’s basically asking for a competitor to come and take away your meal plate. Creators could then game the system with too much information and undo the changes that YouTube were attempting to make.
With that said, that’s no excuse to not help your creators that have legitimate questions about what they are doing wrong. Specifically, it’s YOUR algorithms that are determining that the video is not advertiser friendly, YouTube. If you don’t know based on all the data that you have available and actually making the decision to demonetize the video … then who does? It’s certainly not the creator, who doesn’t have the access to all the tools and data that you would have available.
In Yammy’s case, I’ve watched the video that was demonetized. I’m honestly stumped on what exactly could be considered non-advertiser friendly. The closest thing I can guess is the implied promiscuity in the video, but I’d be very interested in how it figured that out via an auto detection algorithm if that were the case. I’m confused on what isn’t reasonable for a five year old to watch in this video. It’s not my cup of tea of course, but there’s no swear words, and it’s just basically narrating a series of days of what happens to these people in a house. Yeah, there’s some flirting and some comments about pregnancy, but none of them are controversial, at all. I mean, there’s definitely worse content on the Trending tab on a daily basis, and I would assume that YouTube wouldn’t be hypocritical and promote content that “isn’t suited for a five year old.” Wait, I’m sorry, I’m assuming that YouTube would be consistent on something. Sorry, my bad.
What’s confusing about the five year old comment made by the support agent is simple: look at Youtube’s Terms of Service. For section 12 of the terms of service, it reads the following:
In any case, you affirm that you are over the age of 13, as the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you.
Now, I just want to take a moment to point out how absurd this section of the ToS is in terms of tone. It’s making the assumption that a 12 year old kid is reading these terms of service. You know, the kid that wants to watch the Game Grumps, Markiplier, or some other popular YouTuber. I also like how it suggests that there are other great web sites for you. You know, those numerous popular video services for kids.
But the absurdity of the ToS aside, let’s step back and realize that you already have to be 13 in order to use the service on your own. If you’re not, the ToS makes an assumption that a parent is taking advantage of something like YouTube Kids. So even though you need to be over 13 to use the service, the content is aimed for a target audience that is significantly younger than the assumptions that the ToS made. Does that make any sense to anyone reading this? It doesn’t to me.
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that all content needs to be friendly for five year olds going forward when it comes to advertising. Remember, Google is a business, and if this move allows them to maximize their profits, then exactly how can you argue against that? I mean, it is their service, despite the fact that in the past, they had no problems with prank channels, sexualized Disney videos, and various other non-kid friendly content. I have absolutely no problem with them making that declaration as long as it’s clear to the creators what exactly that means. What constitutes a video being friendly for five year olds? That’s the thing, Google won’t define that.
And that’s left creators really, really confused. They don’t know what to do. Hell, some of the biggest creators don’t know what to do. Mort3mer, known as Suzi Berhow, posted this on August 14th, 2017.
I wish there was a guideline or rule book I could look at @YouTube
— ?Mortemer? (@Mort3mer) August 14, 2017
Let’s be clear: Mort3mer is a member of one of the most popular channels on YouTube, the Game Grumps. If someone like Suzi Berhow can’t find the resources or get the answers from YouTube through her contacts or through her other creators, what chance does a small or medium-size channel have? And she’s also right: There is no good set of guidelines that give you specific detail on what is advertiser friendly or not. Now, there is technically a page that gives you some guidelines. But the problem with that page is the lack of detail. What exactly qualifies as “other dangerous products that are not eligible for advertising”? Knives? Tattoos? Fidget Spinners? What exactly does that catch all phrase mean?
Well, these are big YouTubers right? They just reach out to get get clarification from YouTube, right? Well, you can see how well getting clarification went, as Mort3mer, Yammy, and ACG have gotten very similar responses.
We tried talking to YouTube and they told us in short order- the system is working as it should. Wat. 3/?
— ?Mortemer? (@Mort3mer) August 21, 2017
I just want to take a second to ask YouTube: do you expect creators to accept this answer? I mean, you have little communication to begin with for a majority of your creators. When you do seem to talk about issues, then lo and behold, the answers people are looking for are not answered. So, now they are sitting there, wondering if you care in the first place. Which means your creators don’t trust ANYTHING you’re saying to them, even when you are proven to be telling the truth.
Now, it’s fitting that I end this section referring to monetization, because at the core, this is where YouTube has been the most on fire, at least in the eyes of many of its creators.
The #Adpocolypse: Using a Sword Instead of a Scalpel
Let’s talk Pewdiepie. Not because of how much that will help the SEO of this article. I mean, it’ll do that of course. But more of how the ripple effects of the Wall Street Journal’s article, which misrepresented the biggest YouTube creator, has had an adverse effect on the platform as a whole.
Let’s be clear from the get go: the original WSJ article that sparked the #Adpocolypse was a hit piece, plain and simple. It was created to cause massive moral panic for a situation that was 0.001% of the videos you could see on YouTube … if that. The misrepresentation that occurred within those articles regarding Pewdiepie was not only abhorrent, but it should make any self-respecting journalist put down their pen for good. Many of the “clips” used were taken way out of context. The article didn’t care; it had to push a conclusion that the author wanted to make, and the context didn’t matter. This type of reporting is one of the reasons why I take the Society of Professional Journalists’s guideline of “minimize harm” to heart, because if you don’t, you end up doing something like what this article did: catching millions of great creators with safe content in the crossfire of your own political battles.
Sadly, those good creators didn’t matter when it came to the influence of those articles and the message that came out of it. All that mattered was the public perception and what advertisers took from the article. Which was that Youtube was a place filled with scum and villiany, and they were going to corrupt your children and convert you to be an ISIS soldier. Ok, maybe I’m over-exaggerating that last part. Almost like how that article over-exaggerated all of its information.
The fallout from the #Adpocolypse has been wide-reaching, hitting a huge amount of channels across all types of content. YouTube was forced into a corner because of the series of hit pieces against them, and honestly, I’m not sure how YouTube could have handled the situation better than they did at the start of it. They could have tried to stand their ground and let the issue blow over, but too many big advertisers had removed campaigns at that point. They had to do something, so they started to fight against changing the incorrect perception.
The changes to monetization have been absolutely devastating to most creators, despite YouTube indicating that most have returned to their pre-#Adpocolypse numbers. Most of the ones I talk to have indicated that anywhere from 25–85% of their revenue for the same amount of views. A good amount of that has to do with what is being classified as “limited monetization.” Basically, limited monetization is a condition in which videos that you create are only available for a subset of advertisers due to the topics/content of the video. You don’t know what percentage of advertisers has been removed from possibly advertising on your video, but you know that you’re probably going to make a lot less money.
Look, I get that YouTube is cutting down on offensive content. Again, as mentioned before, that’s their right as the platform owner, even if I don’t agree with it. With that said, even basic channels are getting hit, which leaves me scratching my head. Mr. Repizon did a fine job of stating his problems in a recent video, where he documented several videos that got demonetized/limited monetization that seemingly didn’t make any sense to get hit. Here’s the problem with controversial content being a criteria for monetization: you’ve got to be pretty clear about what falls into that category. Talking about abortion, even if done professionally and tastefully? Yeah, I can easily see why any video of that topic would get hit. But discussing issues with YouTube? I’m not so sure.
One of the common misconceptions that I’ve seen about this issue was that it only hit “conservative” channels, or channels that had values that YouTube didn’t agree with it. To counter that, I just want to give a list of all the creators that have gotten hit over the past few weeks to drive home the fact that this isn’t some very small subset of the YouTube community.
- lazygamereviews: A really interesting channel about older PC games and classic gaming.
- TheReportofTheWeek: Reviews Fast food in a business suit. Just because.
- Rob Dyke: Handles creepy top ten videos, as well as interesting facts about the creepy side of the world.
- ACG: A more traditional game reviewer with a unique style for writing. (This is not me promoting a creator I love I have no idea what you’re talking about…..)
- RagnarRox: Focuses on Game Design
- Philip DeFranco: News/Current issues channel
- DonnaASMR: an ASMR channel.
- BreeAnn Barbie: Focuses on Tattoos, Piercings, Makeup
- Onision: Controversial more left-leaning YouTuber
- Uppercasechase1 aka Chase Ross: Transgender focused channel providing information about the community
Just look at that list. It’s all over the place. Everyone is getting hit. It’s not just gaming channels. It’s not just the horror community. And while I will concede that certain groups are getting hit more frequently than others, this issue is site wide, unless you’re a creator with significant influence.
However, what should be more concerning for users of YouTube is what creators may need to do to keep monetization and their channels afloat. For example, creators may make their videos less clear in order to keep their monetization, due to the over-zealous algorithm that seems to be hitting a reasonable amount of key phrases and content. The sad reality of YouTube’s algorithms at the moment, and the way they have evolved, is that context of the video doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference, until you go and appeal. The problem is that appeal process takes time, and a majority of videos make their money in the first several days they are live. That’s a devastating problem for YouTubers to deal with, especially if they are someone who needs those videos to drop in real-time, like news channels. No YouTube, it is not a reasonable suggestion to keep the video unlisted and wait for the monetization to be fixed. That’s like covering a gushing wound with a splint.
You probably want an example of this, so let’s look to the world of Anime. Or specifically, one of the more popular ones: One Punch Man. If I were to review the series or make a video on it, you’d think that I’d include the name of the series in the title to be clear with my audience. You know, so that I’m not possibly misleading them or them running into spoilers that they don’t want? Well, sadly, that’s not the case. Because as Gaijan Goomba points out, just the presence of the word punch in the video’s title seems to affect the video’s monetization. The video in question is titled “One-Punch Man’s Sonic is a TERRIBLE Ninja!? – Which Ninja” and was seemingly hit according to a now deleted tweet by Gaijin Goombah.
— Gaijin Goombah (@GaijinGoombah) July 30, 2017
Let’s do an exercise here. Let’s consider a bunch of uses of the word “punch” that don’t refer to violence in any sort of way.
- A video showing the recipe for a new punch drink for kids, that’s healthier for them, but still tastes good.
- How about a Cocktail Recipe named Pirate’s Punch?
- How to make coin rings with Tiny Punch Holes.
- Music by the Punch Brothers.
Do you see how silly it would be to develop an algorithm that takes only the word “punch” into account when enabling monetization on a video? Now, you may be sitting here and saying to yourself: “Shaun, you are jumping to conclusions. You don’t know how YouTube’s algorithm works when it comes to trying to take context into account. Maybe it looks at a series of words to determine if the context of its use is reasonable. I mean, you yourself have videos that are monetized with the word punch in it, like a review on Punch Club. So, maybe it’s just Gaijin Goomba ran into a situation that just so happened to falsely flag the system. Heck, maybe videos for One Punch Man are entirely demonetized due to people uploading episodes of it all the time. He himself deleted the tweet. You just don’t know, Shaun, stop jumping to conclusions.”
My response to that would be: “well, that’s sorta the point I’m making.”
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that wasn’t the case. Let’s assume by a crazy set of circumstances that it just showed a direct connection but in fact was something else. Let’s assume that it wasn’t the word “punch.” So what was it? Well, God only knows. And again, that’s the point. The creator has absolutely no clue of what actually caused the issue.
The limited guidelines regarding titles, tags, and possible “controversial” issues/phrases is not only unclear to a YouTube creator, it’s downright cryptic. From what I see, it’s the equivalent of a blind man attempting to describe color. Sure, if you have a pair of breasts in the thumbnail, you probably can figure out what the problems is. But when you get a video showing off getting a tattoo, then it gets a little more complicated. Is it the tattoo itself? Is the process of getting a tattoo, which may cause blood?
Which leaves the creator with a very large problem: how do I fix this problem that I truly don’t know is a problem? How do you create a title that accurately depicts the content you are creating if a certain word within it is banned from monetization? Do you just refer to Sonic in the title, saying he’s a terrible ninja? But that doesn’t give those who haven’t watched One Punch enough information to know that it’s based on the anime. So then you’re doing your viewers a disservice. But that’s if it’s the title. Maybe it’s actually the tags that are the problems. Maybe it doesn’t like the word ninja, or assassination in the tags, even if it’s accurate. Or it could be the thumbnail. So … you’re basically screwed. You don’t know what it is. You can only guess.
What’s even worse now is the fact that when it comes to limited monetization: you only get one chance to appeal. You don’t know necessarily what caused the problem in the first place, but you’re being asked to determine if the video is truly advertiser friendly. How? How do you appeal an unknown problem? How does someone like lazygamereviews deal with something that makes absolutely no sense?
Tomorrow's planned LGR episode won't be going up because @TeamYouTube tagged it as inappropriate.
I guess Windows9x apps are just too much. pic.twitter.com/XdOY9im1kr
— Lazy Game Reviews (@lazygamereviews) August 25, 2017
I mean, the only guess I have, and it’s a stretch for one, is that the word “Killing” appears in that list above. Seriously, that’s it. And that’s one screen in the middle of the video. Now, LGR appealed this, and well ….
Stupidity continues. @TeamYouTube has confirmed this video is inappropriate.
No profanity, no game violence, no political content, nothing.
— Lazy Game Reviews (@lazygamereviews) August 26, 2017
I also experienced this, as I was hit by YouTube’s changes, which means I can give you some direct data on what I saw on my channel. 80% of the content that I had demonetized seemed to be related to videos with “evil” words in the title, regardless of whether the content in the video had violence, sexual content, or anything objectionable. I came to the conclusion based on what videos got hit. For example, a review of Resident Evil 7 could have been demonetized based on violent content (despite YouTube’s guidelines indicating that it wouldn’t be affected if it’s reasonable video game violence). But then there’s games like Yatagarsu: Attack on Cataclysm, which is a fighting game without a lot of blood or “real violence.” It’s things like my review of Zero Time Dilemma being just fine, but a sample video for a death within the series being demonetized (and if you’re wondering, it was to show a death but not spoil plot points in the main review ). There’s no pattern to what I see here, other than the title having a “bad word.” So I have to assume that, even if it’s not every case.
Now I want to be clear on something: these are my personal findings based on the research that I have done. The data I may have gathered may not be conclusive, and it may be oversimplifying things. Or making wrong conclusions. However, I have to go based on what data is in front of me. So, from what I’ve seen, these are some of the criteria that I have found that seems to get a video hit for limited monetization that are on top of the suggested guidelines from YouTube.
- “Evil” words: Words like murder, evil, apocalypse, etc.
- Subjects that still have a taboo nature to them in some circles: things like tattoos, piercings depression, etc.
- Guns or boobs in the thumbnail: This one I can provide direct evidence below, based on two videos I did regarding the Senran Kagura series. This is NOT a 100% success rate, as proven in later tests, but it’s a pretty good indicator for the most part.
- Videos criticizing YouTube. I’m guessing this usually falls in the “inflammatory” portion, but even videos I’ve seen being rational and calm get hit.
- Channels that have a history of demonitized/limited monetization videos. There seems to be a system where if you have a certain percentage of videos, it auto kicks in making the assumption that the next video is going to be a problem.
- Videos without tags/descriptive information. I want to clarify this one in particular as I’ve seen people doing a lot of tests without putting tags/etc in. If the bot has no information to work off of: of course it’s not going to find the right advertisers to put ads on your video. It specifically calls out in their suggested guidelines that you need accurate metadata in the video. If you have no metadata, it can’t be accurate.
- Multiple copies of the same video
I have to emphasize that YouTube’s advertising problem seems to be hitting EVERYONE. Certain genres and videos are being hit more than others, but I’ve seen everything from the ASMR community, to unboxing videos being hit. The horror and true crime community has been devastated. Really, the only videos that seem to be fine are corporate videos and kids videos. That’s it. Oh, and the ads themselves of course.
The whole ad situation is baffling. You need to have content suitable for 5 year olds yet the ads are cod & alcohol.Kids these days are lit?
— Senpai Razz? (@Razzbowski) August 20, 2017
One of my best friends recently ran into a major situation herself while using YouTube. She has a young son that just turned two years old, and she uses YouTube to help entertain him with its selection of kid friendly videos, including creators such as Blippi. Which is fine, and a great use of the platform. It gives her time to finally finish Final Fantasy XV. Of course, ads play on those videos from time to time, and one ad in particular stood out when the videos were cycling through. It was a trailer for a zombie movie.
Let me let that sink in: a video targeted for children had a trailer for a zombie movie before it played. Going from watching a video about singing the ABCs to blood and guts on the screen.
Now, unlike the WSJ, I’m going to tell you that has only happened to my friend one time, and that this isn’t a widespread thing. This seemed to be a video sneaking through the cracks of YouTube, which is going to happen. There’s too much content being uploaded every minute, and regardless of every resource that YouTube throws at approving and checking each request for advertisement on their platform, there will be mistakes. After all, even the programs created are created by fallible humans. Someone clicked the wrong box on choosing the audience they were going for, and boom, zombies and flesh devouring in front of kids.
With that said, I’m also surprised that a channel themselves also doesn’t have any sort of choice of what content is allowed to advertise on their channel. A channel like Blippi makes a lot of sense for toy companies and companies that focus on child content to want to advertise on. In fact, I’m betting that Blippi himself would love that. But if a political channel wants to focus their content and advertise it to kids, there’s not much Blippi can do that’s preemptive in dealing with it. You can report ads that are running on your videos if a viewer gives you a heads up, but that’s after the damage may have been done. If advertisers can be negatively hurt by what videos their ads runs on, then the inverse relationship is most likely true. If I see my kid watching a video, and a pro-smoking video all of a sudden pops up on it, I’m naturally going to be pissed, and I may hold the channel responsible for it. That’s not fair to the channel itself; they didn’t necessarily have a choice of that ad playing on their video. But it shows you where the power relationship lies in the triangle of YouTube, advertisers, and creators.
From my side, one thing that I cannot understand about YouTube’s current monetization strategy is how they think that creators won’t jump to other revenue sources and strangle their own revenue in the process. A smart YouTube channel is going to diversify their revenue sources using brand deals, third-party donation platforms, and merchandise. It’s the third-party donation platforms that I want to zoom in here: websites like Patreon and Gamewisp. Here’s the thing, those sites allow for a steady stream of income for creators that won’t necessarily get hit by other changes by YouTube. This can allow someone like Superbunnyhop, one of the best gaming channels on YouTube (in my opinion), to work on content and deliver it without being concerned on being friendly to the advertisers. In fact, many Patreons have launched over the past 12 months, and it usually comes with an extra reward. Specifically, the removal of all ads on the videos as a reward tier.
Now let’s think about that a second: if enough creators like Jim Sterling end up not bothering with monetizing videos with large amounts of views, that’s a huge amount of lost revenue for YouTube. Sure, they gain some benefits in terms of the creator keeping content on their site. However, if enough creators decide to start demonetizing their videos and just use third party sources, that could mean MILLIONS lost for YouTube—for a site that historically has trouble turning a profit.
If YouTube had developed some creator trust over the last 5 years, then those creators may have been less willing to look at that option in times of trouble. But as I mentioned in the section before, a lot of trust is earned through transparency and constant communication, and YouTube has done anything but earn trust in the past few years with its platform. At least for a majority of creators. And recent events regarding the internals of Google hasn’t helped things in that area.
Here’s where this article gets into tricky territory, because James Damore was not a part of YouTube. He was a now infamous former Google employee that questioned some of the recent decision making regarding diversity hires. He shouldn’t really come into play when it comes to the issues that YouTube is facing. Yet the reveals what he had about the inside of Google, and its workings may shed some light onto what’s happening in the realm of YouTube.
— YouTube Creators (@YTCreators) August 18, 2017
Now let me start off by saying: YouTube is once again a private business. It can do whatever it wants when it comes to their company. If they want to push Creators for Change, push voices of the LGTBQ community, push voices that are at the core of social issues: that’s their right. To a certain extent, I commend them for it. There are voices in the world that are overlooked. Maybe my life has those voices being on level as everyone else, but I’m only one person in this entire world. You may agree or disagree with them on this, but it’s their right as a company. This isn’t a utility. This is a privately run business, despite having shareholders to answer to.
With that said, one of the major problems that YouTube is running into is the fact they are doing this with everything else going on. Despite the fact that dealing with the other issues as mentioned and the Creators for Change program are probably run by completely separate teams that have nothing to do with each other, in the eyes of the public, it does not matter. You can really see that by the reactions to various videos regarding the Creators for Change program.
To say the reaction to this video is reasonably negative is an understatement to say the least. Almost one fifth of the overall views fall into the dislike side of things at the time of writing this article. However, I don’t think this has much to do with the program itself. Sure, there are people who think political correctness has gone too far over the last several years. However, I think the backlash against the program has to do with the idea that YouTube is spending a lot of time promoting these kinds of programs they are running and not looking at the main feedback they are getting from other creators. Yes, these are probably separate teams as I mentioned before, but that’s doesn’t matter here. YouTube is a corporate entity, and thus, it looks like one person in the overall picture. Because of that, it looks like they are ignoring a good amount of their creators while promoting this, and, well, people don’t like getting ignored. Myself included.
There were a couple of videos that really stood out when it came to videos on my channel that got demonetized, and a majority of those oddballs had to do with criticism on YouTube’s handling of things. Specifically their handling of copyright situations, as well as the YouTube heroes program. I’m going to be frank here: when I look at the tags, and the content of that video, my only conclusion is that YouTube thinks any discussion of YouTube related issues is controversial. Which to a certain extent it can be, with channels like DramaAlert making huge issues out of things. With that said, the trend of YouTube criticism being limited in terms of monetization … that to me starts to fall into the soft censorship category. There are plenty of ways of being critical of the nature of YouTube and still be advertiser friendly. You can make education videos, satire videos, more friendly positive videos that still discuss the issues. But from what I’ve been following regarding YouTube, Google doesn’t seem to really care about that.
It’s the context that’s the major problem here and how it goes in determining the limited monetization, or heck, the removal of a video entirely for that matter. Algorithms need a LOT of data and a lot of fine tuning in order to be even close to a reasonable success rate on choosing content correctly, especially in a field where artistic expression runs wild. Sometimes, information can look like one thing on the surface, but with the right context, it could be something completely different. Yes, a video may have an ISIS training video in it for example, but if you’re talking about the history of ISIS and discussing the issues surrounding the group and their violent ways, the context has completely changed. At this point in time, it looks like YouTube’s algorithms don’t have the tuning to deal with that, as shown by Eliot Higgins.
So far YouTube's attempts to remove ISIS and Jihadi content has proven to be a total flop, loads of false positives.
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) August 12, 2017
His channel was removed for a brief period of time as YouTube’s attempts to remove pro-ISIS and Jihadi content, hitting his educational/investigative videos on Syria; think about that for a second. A video aimed to bringing clarification about Syria and some of the horrors that Isis has brought to the country was removed. Which, in turn, is a positive for ISIS.
YouTube can sit there in a blog post and claim that they are attempting to help fight terrorism by using things like the “Redirect method,” but how are we supposed to take them seriously when some of the most informed people on the subject end up getting de-platformed, even if it’s for a period of time? Eliot isn’t the only man who’s run across issues like this, as famous professors, like Jordan Peterso,n have also been suspended for a period of time, despite bringing a lot of interesting and worthwhile discussions to the forefront.
But don’t think it’s YouTube on its own taking things down that the world could be learning from. Because YouTube has opened the door to all its users to join in the fun, regardless of whether or not they can prove that they are actually doing something good.
Speaking of Insanity: The DMCA system
I really didn’t want to talk about Alex Mauer in yet another article. I really don’t. I’m tired of having covered it. But, she’s the best example recently of how the DMCA system has been repeatedly abused, with no action from YouTube to fix its flaws.
Now granted, YouTube is in a bit of a bind here. The DMCA laws have not evolved to catch up to several of the changes in the Internet that have occurred over the past decade. It severely needs an update, but this is the legal system we’re talking about. Expecting it to change quickly is like expecting sanity in today’s world. Apparently, that’s just something that isn’t in the cards. So I can’t put this entirely on YouTube. But, YouTube hasn’t helped their creators in dealing with bad eggs in their system.
This was an issue I hoped that I could help with. I did the Alex Mauer article on TechRaptor, documenting all the issues regarding the DMCA claims she was making, and have continued to keep watching the issue over time. I opened up several different avenues of attempting to communicate with YouTube to get their response on this. Emailing specific figure heads. Tweeting at @TeamYoutube. Opened a support ticket. Well, finally, YouTube responded to me. Or at least Frank from Youtube did.
Now, for the sake of argument, let me put this out there: yes, I used my own gaming review channel to try to get answers about the Alex Mauer situation for the sake of TechRaptor. The thing is, the way that the support forms are written, it technically didn’t have to be my channel that was involved in the support request. It allowed me to put a different email than the channel affected, but I own the Dragnix channel and have made a lot of content that has been affected by false DMCA claims in the past. It was an inquiry that was allowed within their system.
So, I responded with a lengthy post, which you can see here.
So, you’re probably thinking that Frank got back to me within a day indicating some answers, or that he was still looking at the issue but it was taking time. I mean, there was a harassment issue at the core of this; one that could easily be exploited by bad eggs in the system. In fact, I got an email at one point when I tried to follow up on the issue indicating that I did not have enough views to warrant a response. Which is sorta funny, because you need 10,000 views to get a response from their support. The Channel I reported the issue with? Over 400,000 views. I’m pretty sure I’ve crossed that threshold.
I still have not recieved an answer from Google on that email chain. In case you’re wondering, the support number is 3-2713000018626. I’m not saying that you should tweet @TeamYoutube and ask what the status of that case is, but I’m just saying I’m not going to stop you from doing it.
The thing is, an unstable individual like Alex Mauer has shown a huge flaw in YouTube’s current system: the ability to get the address and personal information of the person whose making the claim. In order to counter claim a DMCA claim with YouTube, you have to agree to provide your personal information to the accusing party. This requirement YouTube has placed probably was to allow for the legal system and the “older” system to get the information needed. Specifically, where to send legal forms and “real life” details of the situation. The problem is simple: there’s really no barrier of entry to stop someone who may not have any claim on the work, or a person who has proven unstable in the past, to get that information from a person by false claiming a video that their “target” has created. You may say that the legal system and YouTube will punish that person for making the false claims. That may be true, but that is litigation and takes time. In the meanwhile, the person has that sensitive information and may choose to do something with it. While yes, the system requires you to put down address information to create the account that makes the false claim, YouTube does nothing really to verify that information from what I see. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw the address of the White House used on those accounts. Any sort of mailing address will do, even a PO Box, as long as you have somewhere court documentation can be delivered to, if it were ever to get that far.
This is why creators I talked to in the Alex Mauer saga were a bit scared of counter-claiming and coming forward, even if they were 100% in the right when it came to Fair Use in their videos. They din’t like the fact that someone who had openly sent death threats to those already caught up in the DMCA takedowns would have their address. They had families to worry about, and even if it was only a 0.00001% chance that Mauer would do something crazy of that information, it was not something they felt comfortable in doing.
Now, I have to be clear on something here: the DMCA as written forces that address information to be given. That is something that YouTube cannot get around, even though they probably have the influence to possibly get the law changed if they really tried. And while there’s safe harbor protections with the DMCA, it should be noted that there’s no requirement to actually provide information that you own the copyright in question before making a claim. In fact, there have been several documented situations where it’s been proven that the claimant is not the copyright owner. Yet, they were allowed to create more claims on repeated videos. Now YouTube does warn of the legal consequences that could occur from making false claims. Tell that to organizations like the GoDigitial Media Group or Sanoma NL, who have been found to have repeated incidents of false claims documenting back to 2011.
I think that’s the thing that drives me up the wall the most: bad actors have given the copyright ID system a bad name, when in fact it’s vital to the survival of something like YouTube. The amount of content that’s illegally uploaded to YouTube on a daily basis is maddening. In fact, let me do a little experiment here. I’m a wrestling fan, and let’s see what happens when I search YouTube the fatal four way match of the last PPV, SummerSlam. There’s no possible way that’d I’d find multiple copies of the match illegally uploaded, several of them altering footage to try to get around YouTube’s system right? The fact that I provided you that many links should tell you otherwise, even if the quality of several of those links are poor.For every person who is able to get see comparable footage to not have to watch the PPV via the WWE Network means one less subscription for the WWE. That can add up over time and was a huge problem for the WWE back in the day when illegal streaming was starting up.
Now, this isn’t the article to discuss the issues of piracy and the like and whether or not it can have a positive effect on the product in the long term. But it highlights something: YouTube’s tricky position when it comes to the content on their platform. In order to avoid legal battles and all the issues that come with this, they’ve got to do everything in their power to stop those uploads of things like Full Movies and the legitimate cases where Fair Use does not apply.
Just because the DMCA exists doesn’t meant that YouTube can’t be more aggressive with the bad users in the system, and that’s the point. They do nothing to those users, allowing them to run wild, making YouTube a digital version of the Wild West. Heck, Valve, even with all of its asset flippers, occasionally takes action on a bad seed or two like Digitial Homicide. So, why doesn’t YouTube?
The more things change, the more things stay the same
Remember at one point where YouTube was on top of the world? That it was the future of media? That it was going to change the landscape of the world?
That sounds funny now, doesn’t it?
I’ve only scratched the surface of YouTube’s problems in this article. Which given the length of this article is sorta scary. I didn’t talk about the consistent subscriber problems that happen with people seemingly getting dropped from creators without their knowledge. I didn’t talk about how the algorithm changes have started to determine what videos show up in your sub box. I didn’t follow up on the previous article’s point of how the actual enforceable community guidelines are still being abused without consequence. But if I were to dictate every problem to you all, I’d never have finished this article.
The major problem here is simple: YouTube is in a position that they can ignore their creators and all the people who are pointing out major problems with their site and not suffer too badly from it. Let’s face it: YouTube is a monopoly when it comes to video sharing, and creators don’t really have a lot of power when it comes to threatening to move to another site. Sure, there are other platforms like Vimeo, vid.me, and Dailymotion, but they pale in comparison to the corporate giant, and unlike the cable/ISP companies, it wasn’t through a lot of nefarious means. YouTube just offered a service that was well ahead of others in the area when video sharing was starting up. People were drawn to them because of what the platform could do. But much like Valve and its position in PC gaming, YouTube doesn’t have the competition that forces it to stay innovative and listen to its users, attempting to please them at every corner … yet.
But with Twitch starting to focus on topics outside of gaming (along with having their own video search/hosting in beta), and Facebook seemingly starting to take video very seriously in the last year, they have a couple of competitors that will hopefully start to push them and make them take their creators seriously. Gaming creators are starting to look at Twitch a lot more due to it wanting to actually work with its creators, for example. Vid.me is gaining a following because it doesn’t seem to play political games.
It’s funny. Part of the reason that YouTube really started to catch on fire was how different it was from the main form of media consumption years ago: television. People were starting to get tired of content being delivered on television, how you couldn’t get what you wanted without getting the super deluxe package that was extra on top of the regular cable subscription. How there were so many commercials. How content seemed to be biased toward one type of content. Yet, if you start to look at the behavior of YouTube over the last several months, their actions start to mirror the old ways of television. With things like YouTube Red giving you a selection of content but only at a base price that you can’t negotiate. You’re starting to see YouTube bringing big channels like ESPN in their upcoming TV service. The content that was making YouTube unique is getting replaced by more corporate interests and videos.
The reason why I write so much about this topic is simple: I saw the strength of what YouTube was doing when I started my own channel several years ago. I saw how it’s brought creators that have really good insight to audiences that would have never seen them. I have reached an audience that I never would have before and done things I would have never even dreamed of doing before. I’m more confident in my voice after creating those videos; I’m able to talk to people a bit easier. I’ve shared my love of games to anyone who would listen to me, and I’ve seen others do the same.
#YouTubeIsBurning. So my question Google: are you going to let it burn to ashes or are you going to do something about it?