YouTube, I’m about to say a lot of things that are not very complimentary. First of all, however, I have to thank you…
I’ve tackled some pretty heavy topics recently. Topics that are by their nature delicate and that my own views on are conflicted; and, because I have no desire to be an obnoxious, wannabe shock-jock, I’ve handled these subjects with care. I like to think I’ve done a decent job. I haven’t censored my honest views for fear of offending, but I have chosen my words carefully because that’s what the subject matter deserves. Going in-depth about sensitive subjects is valuable and rewarding, but also exhausting. On the other hand, it’s refreshing and fun to have a subject to dig into that I can be unapologetically enthusiastic or furious about, and this week YouTube, when I needed you, you provided.
So thank you, and what the fuck is wrong with you?!
So, to clue in everyone who doesn’t go to YouTube regularly, a quick clue-in. YouTube recently updated its parameters for monetising videos (where advertisements from outside companies play on the creator’s videos, in exchange for a fee of which the creator gets a cut). We don’t get to know exactly how recently, because YouTube made these changes with absolutely no announcement to its user base, and has since been de-monetising videos, also without informing the channels in question, for being advertiser un-friendly.
Now, to be clear, as a private business YouTube is absolutely entitled to set and enforce whatever terms of service it wants (more on that in a bit), but if the company cares about nurturing trust between them and the user base that rely on them, and visa-versa, then those terms need to be communicated, they need to be consistent, and they need to be clear. These new parameters are just the latest example of how YouTube, for a long time, has been failing on all three counts.
For starters, these parameters read a lot like bollocks! A ‘helpful’ list of highlights for content that is considered bad for ads by YouTube includes, but is not limited to:
- “Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humour.”
- “Violence, including display of serious injury and events related to violent extremism.”
- “Inappropriate language, including harassment, swearing 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.”
Now I really, really shouldn’t have to explain what’s wrong with that list, but considering there are still people out there earnestly defending YouTube on this one, allow me to elaborate. With the possible exception of point number four, which seems to be relatively clear and concise (regardless of whether or not I agree with it), what the hell is most of this even supposed to mean?! “Sexual humour”? What, are we talking Carry On or Archer? “Events related to violent extremism” plus, well, everything in point number five, seem to suggest that advertisers are apparently too delicate for the news. Finally, and I assure you this is not coming from some Red Pill, phoney-free-speech crusader, words like “suggestive, inappropriate, vulgar” and most importantly “controversial”, much like ‘offensive’ are, when used in the context of policing content, left entirely up to the adjudicator (assuming a human is even in charge of enforcing these rules) to interpret the parameters of their meaning. That. Isn’t. Good. Enough. And has already lead to creators with video’s talking about their depression and other delicate personal subjects having their video’s penalised without any discussion. If YouTube is going to allow advertisers to pull support from videos that may contain content upsetting to the sensibilities of their target audience (which they have the right to do even if I do find it pathetic) then specific, detailed boundaries are vital to creators that rely on advertising. The way YouTube went about this, those creators didn’t even know they were being penalised for weeks, and even now YouTube has deigned to grace them with an explanation, it leaves far too much open to interpretation, and the language specifically gives them the power to go beyond even these boundaries into more uncharted territory for whatever reason it likes.
Of course, this has led to accusations flying left and right of YouTube trying to enforce some kind of political agenda by ‘censoring’ certain content. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that is the case, and the very fact I’ve seen people on both political wings accusing them of favouring the other side convinces me that YouTube has no political partiality here. I’ve had it suggested to me that this is YouTube’s way of ‘going after’ unscrupulous channels that are bringing the brand into disrepute. Now look, I would be the first person to cheer at the demise of the so-called ‘Drama’ community, or the ‘prank’ artists, but I don’t buy it. For one thing, if YouTube cared about shutting down that kind of content, it could just do that. As I said, YouTube is not the government. It has no obligation to uphold free speech, so by definition it cannot violate it. De-monetisation is absolutely the most toothless and cowardly way I can think of YouTube trying to clean up its act. There’s nothing in here about introducing some actual moderation into their infamously unpleasant comment forums; nothing in these rules that would catch out actual con-artists like the CSGOLotto guys, and all other unsavoury channels big enough to be harming YouTube’s brand have other revenue streams to rely on, such as sponsored video’s and merchandise, if they get their ad money taken away. I promise you, this will do nothing to help YouTube’s image.
No. If there’s an agenda here, then it’s simply a pro-corporate one. YouTube is putting the concerns of its corporate partners ahead of the needs of its community, which is sad but unsurprising. Something more traditional media outlets on television have been doing for decades, but also something I had hoped new-media was helping us grow out of. YouTube, it seems, would rather become the system than define it, chasing advertiser money all the way into the traditional network TV model of milquetoast, dumbed-down, wallpaper-paste content, and why wouldn’t they? While network TV has spent the past half a decade getting its arse kicked by online streaming, YouTube has no real competition to worry about. Other online media players exist of course, but to put it bluntly, most of them suck. Like its parent company Google, YouTube has cultivated a brand that defines its entire medium, to the point where any independent online video-maker is called a ‘Youtuber’. So, much like how it screws over creators with overzealous and unfair Content ID measures that pander to corporate copyright interests, YouTube can afford to leave its community in the dark and without a voice, because where the hell else are they going to go?
It’s time for that to change. No, YouTube does not need to ‘die’ as some have hyperbolically suggested. Despite its faults, it took over the industry by being far better at what it does than anything else, and there’s no reason to burn that legacy down. YouTube is a corporate entity. Objectively, it has no soul, no native moral compass, and so there’s no use loving or hating it any more than there is in hating McDonalds, Microsoft or Apple (actually that’s a bad example, Apple can burn in hell).
I’m not an anti-capitalist; I just don’t fool myself into believing capitalism can ever be benevolent. YouTube, like any other business, is driven by profit, and right now its business model relies on corporate partners a hell of a lot more than it relies on you as a member of its community. The only threat a business faces from its customers is the threat of them taking their custom elsewhere, and so it is vital, even for creators who would always be loyal to YouTube, that that option exists. YouTube may not get money directly from creators or their audience, by they are an attractive corporate property because of the monopoly they have on their market. If more services emerged, perhaps pioneered by former big Youtubers who want an environment less creatively stifling, then YouTube would be forced, for the first time since its conception, to actually compete for our attention.
Overcoming that inertia will be difficult. It will take time, and I don’t doubt this isn’t the last time YouTube will infuriate its user-base. However, for the sake of the community and the medium, I think it’s time for someone to be a pioneer.
…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid!!! Check back tomorrow for a brand new Vuepoint!!!