*Warning: The videos featured in this opinion piece may contain non-advertising friendly elements*
I don’t own a TV nor do I ever have the intention of owning one. While the primary reason for this is that I don’t want to have to pay a TV license fee the second is that, for the most part, I consume content through YouTube.
I’m not talking about watching an illegal rip of Game of Thrones at 1.25X speed, I watch content produced by folks that have made making videos into a career.
Take Phillip De Franco for instance. My first “hit” of originally created content came from him and his channels SourceFed and SourceFed Nerd. I remember thinking, after watching the 5th Table Talk video in a row one evening, that this was how I was going to consume my entertainment moving forward.
I also rather liked the fact that, by watching the videos these creators had uploaded and pushing through the adverts (this was before the proliferation of ad-blockers), I was helping them put food on the table.
As you may or may not know, many YouTubers rely on advertising to make money.
Those pre-roll adverts you get at the beginning of videos make YouTube money which it splits with the creators. It’s a model that has allowed some of my favourite creators to make YouTube a full-time job.
Everything is changing
Recently, YouTube quietly updated its advertising terms of service. The new guidelines have the title of Advertiser-friendly content guidelines and if YouTubers want to make money from advertising their content cannot contain any of the following:
- Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humor
- Violence, including display of serious injury and events related to violent extremism
- Inappropriate language, including harassment, profanity and vulgar language
- Promotion of drugs and regulated substances, including selling, use and abuse of such items
- Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown
On an initial read, those T&Cs look fairly reasonable. However, when you start examining the phrasing here, you might notice it’s rather vague.
Take “controversial or sensitive subjects and events” for instance. What is controversial to you is not controversial to me, what is sensitive to you is not to me. You could argue that some things can generally be agreed to be controversial or sensitive such as racism or sexism.
The trouble is that the wording of those statements and the others is so vague and open to interpretation that if you were to make a video say, calling out somebody for stealing content and re-purposing it as their own, the subject of your video could lodge a complaint and demonetise your video.
While this might sound like a petty act its been a common occurrence of late with the subjects of criticism claiming copyright infringement on their critics.
It gets worse
YouTube has every right to change its terms of service and while it did do it rather quietly without informing anybody about this, you could argue that creators should check this sort of thing on a regular basis.
One would think that these rules would only apply to videos made after the updates to the terms of service, but they don’t.
Take Phillip De Franco for instance who has had 12 of his videos demonetised for covering controversial topics.
As the ‘Tuber points out in one of his daily news videos when there are news stories of global interest such as an earthquake or a terrorist attack, these events would be impossible to cover under these terms.
“Some of the videos being hit don’t even have anything that could be construed as offensive in the [meta] tags [of the video]. This looks to be a straight attack on the content of the video,” de Franco said in a recent video.
Because of this many YouTubers have ramped up their calls for subscriptions, even going so far as to ask current subscribers to follow them on other social networks so they can keep their fans informed should they need to jump ship and head to Vessel or another platform.
Nothing new says YouTube
In a recent follow-up video de Franco reports that these updated terms of service and demonetisation of videos are nothing new, according to YouTube.
Apparently these monetisation terms have always been in effect, except nobody had anyway of knowing if they had been affected.
What this means is that for a long while YouTubers have been losing money on videos without having a clue as to why this was happening.
The changes now place a yellow dollar sign in the edit section of a ‘Tuber’s back end and they can now challenge the demonetisation more easily.
But why are creators who draw millions of views a day being forced to challenge an algorithm’s judgement of whether those rules have been broken?
As I mentioned copyright infringement claims run rampant on YouTube and this adds on to the pile.
My fear is that soon my favourite YouTubers may no longer find YouTube worth their while anymore and sadly many of the channels I love violate many of the aforementioned terms by swearing or covering so-called “controversial” topics.
Making matters worse is that it appears as if a bot is scraping through content and deciding if it violates those terms.
Creators can appeal this after its happened but how long that process will take is unclear meaning a video could be seen by millions before a ‘Tuber can start making money from it again.
The irony of this all is that by demonetising a ‘Tubers videos, YouTube is pushing away the creators, which populate the site with videos. Eventually a creator might just get fed up and stop producing content for the site.
I’m sure I don’t have to explain what happens when enough of them leave and advertising becomes less attractive.
What’s perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that some of YouTube’s most popular creators break each and every single one of those rules.
Things become even more complicated when you consider how these guidelines impact something like YouTube Red where PewDiePie (one of the most popular creators on the site who is known for outbursts of naughty swear words) is a contributor.
What about YouTube Gaming?
The thing is that while it’s now easier for ‘Tubers to challenge demonetised content, it’s now been revealed how broken YouTube is. There is too much automation on the site and that needs to change for the good of the site and most importantly, the creators.
YouTube needs to re-evaluate how it interacts with its creators and have humans overseeing things such as demonetisation and copyright infringement claims. Facebook learned this week what happens when you leave an algorithm in charge, but it seems that after all these years, and all these issues, YouTube is just never going to learn.