YouTube’s Mindless Demonetization Strategy

If you watch anything other than cat videos, chances are YouTube has flagged a few of your favourite videos for demonetization as “unfriendly to advertisers”. Over the past few days, I’ve had a number of videos demonetized. I could understand if these videos were violent, graphic or offensive – but they are none of those. They simply discuss difficult subjects in a sensitive way. Since when has news become unfriendly to advertisers? This has also got me to thinking: If YouTube finds my content objectionable, how would a channel like CNN ever survive in a YouTube environment (unless, one might assume, they received special consideration).

I realized today that a whole bunch of my videos had suddenly been demonetized (YouTube was so kind as to email me about a few of them). I was a little surprised, since you’ve probably noticed my channel contains no violent or offensive content.

Nevertheless, something in my videos must have set off Google’s “offensive” algorithm trip wire, and a number of my videos were flagged for demonetization, including the recent one I did on Daddy of Five.

Before getting into this any further, I have to say a word of thanks to may amazing Patreon supporters, because thanks to their support, this sort of thing is not going to affect my channel as much as it would have just a few months ago. I’ve learned an important lesson when it comes to just how relaxed you can be when when you talk about controversial issues.

Anyway, even though my videos admittedly deal with controversial issues, they do so in an almost painfully sanitized way (if you tuned into my livestream earlier this month, you probably noticed that my speech is decidedly more…colourful than it appears in my formal videos).

I feel that YouTube’s latest strategy leaves plenty of people with genuinely offensive content untouched, while targeting anyone who talks about real issues in danger of demonetization. For example, that wretched Daddy of Five channel? When the parents aren’t swearing a blue streak, they don’t really talk about anything “sensitive” – they just humiliate and emotionally abuse their kids. Which would you rather have your kids see? I’d also argue that there are plenty of objectionable videos intended for a children’s audience that teach absolutely hateful garbage.

As an example of the kind of crap that YouTube chooses to grant a green light, I recently wrote a letter to YouTube about one video that was showing up in the kid’s version of YouTube. The story reads like a Hitler Youth retelling of Sleeping Beauty. The Maleficent character isn’t invited to the christening party because “I am black fairy, and your baby is fair and beautiful.” And to top it all off,  at the end of the story, the sun god (no weird messages there) burns her to death amid screams of pain. I’d understand it being approved for general audiences, but for preschoolers? However, YouTube apparently believes this content is neither controversial or violent, and must have just concluded I was being an SJW, so this video is still viewed by tens of thousands of kids every day. No demonetization for them.

Suffice to say, I don’t have much faith in YouTube’s judgement. But it is disappointing. Not so much because I had faith in YouTube and Google, but because I enjoy seeing interesting content on YouTube. I will do my best never shy away from topics because they are controversial, but I can definitely say that this kind of move will influence other channels. Probably the medium sized channels more than anyone else, since they have barely enough money to get by as it is. I’m curious to see if this affects people such as Vegan Gains – who has a big channel for a vegan YouTuber, but it’s fairly small when you take the whole of YouTube into account. Advertising from YouTube is pretty much his only income and demonetization could ruin him financially.

Now, it wouldn’t kill me to see certain YouTubers swear less or be less offensice. It requires a little extra thought, but if Late Night talk show hosts can do it, we ought to be able to control ourselves a bit, too. But to make people question whether they should even mention the news? Talk about wars? Famines? Floods? This stuff is the bread and butter of the nightly news, and yet it’s too controversial for YouTube? I have a problem with that. And I predict that if this sort of censorship continues, creators will move to platforms that provide more artistic freedom, while at the same time doing the genuine work required to make sure advertisers are satisfied as well.

So far, YouTube has been relying on a system that seems to be based on (poor) word choice policing.  This is not satisfying to creators or advertisers. Advertisers want content people enjoy watching so that their ads get seen. Content creators pretty much want the same thing! But YouTube itself seems to care primarily about making advertisers happy – which can interfere with the goals of both advertisers and creators. Watch your back, YouTube – I’d say Facebook is coming for you, and with way better advertising data and superior content filters.


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